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Bus rider with tired ears - help me ditch my iphone headphones

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  1. DaBird
    First post. I need some new headphones, but I'm a total nooby. I have an ipod (iphone 4) and use the standard issue headphones. They're ok, but I do virtually all of my listening on my bus commute to/from work - over 2 hours a day mostly at freeway speeds.  Buses are loud, so I really have the volume up.
    My ears become fatigued and by the time I get home I'm too exhausted to listen to my chatty wife (just kidding).  But seriously, I'm starting to get ringing ears and I feel like if I use my iphone headphones much longer, I'll make things worse.  I need some good isolation, and I want to hear my music the right way and enjoy it.
    Having read a bit on this board today, seems like there is a lot of knowledgeable people here, so I'm hoping you can steer me the right direction.
    What I listen to:
    - Classical jazz and mainstream jazz (not so much the fusion or R&B kind). Usually like real instruments, not synthesized sounds. For jazz vocalists, I'm a bigger fan of modern singers (e.g., Jane Monheit) than those of the early and mid 1900's.
    - Bluesy rock/R&B and stuff with acoustical qualities and intricate solos and rhythm section
    - Classic rock, but nothing real heavy (e.g., I like Chicago, BTO, Journey...)
    - Some country
    - Classical if I find the right thing - love the airy qualities and dynamics of a full stringed orchestra.
    - Some popular music, alternative rock
    - Beyond music, I stream a LOT of Netflix on the bus. Volume is often at max here due to quiet dialogues.
    My filetype is whatever my iphone converts my .mp3s into (aac?). Most is decent bit-rate that you'd get on Amazon or iTunes, not the 128-bit smaller files.
    What I don't listen to:
    - Rap, hip-hop, opera, electronica, trance, etc.
    What I'm hoping to find:
    I want to hear the fine details of my music (as much as reasonably possible on a bus). I don't want to crank the volume up. I want to be able to watch Netflix too and hear the dialogue.  I'd like my music to come to life so I can hear the details.
    What I'll spend:
    Depends, I guess. I'm a nooby, so I don't really know what I need to pay to get what I'm asking for.  Maybe $75 (USD); maybe $175?  A higher pricetag would demand a more compelling argument.  I can't see myself going more than a couple hundred bucks, and at that amount I would need to be confident of some awesome results.  However, If I'm going to spend the money, I want a noticeable difference, not something where I'm left saying, "Yeah, I THINK this is better. I can kind of tell..."  No. I want to experience a tangible difference that alters everything about the way I experience music and dialogue during my commute.
    What would you recommend for my situation?
    Long post - thanks for hanging in there!
  2. ZARIM
    Radius DDM, FX500, IE7, DBA-02, EX500, S4 and HJE900.
  3. murano


    IMHO - You need great, not good isolation.  Otherwise, you are going to end up with tinnitus or permanent hearing loss.  
  4. ljokerl Contributor

    Agreed, I would go with isolation first, fidelity second. My recommendation would be the Etymotic HF3 and a pack of Shure Olive eartips (or, if that's too much to swing, the Ety MC3). Earphones like the DDM, IE7, FX500, are good and all but for public transport their isolation doesn't quite cut it.
  5. DaBird
    Thanks for the suggestions. I can see the Ety HF3's have a triple flange earpiece. How do the Shure Olives affect their isolation. Is it the ear pad that dictates the isolation. If so, could I just stick the Shure Olives on some other IEM that has better fidelity? Would the isolation be the same due to using the same ear pad insert?
  6. ljokerl Contributor


    Olives are a bit more comfortable than triple flanges and a bit less isolating but Etymotics isolate a whole lot with any eartip. Isolation is a function of much more than just the eartips used and Shure Olives won't fit very many other IEMs in the first place. The HF3 has the added advantage of an iPhone remote and easy availability compared to something like the Fischer Audio DBA-02, which would (arguably) offer better sound quality for the price.
  7. macrocheesium

    Sounds like an Etymotic to me! MC3/MC5 would be my choice.


    I'm not sure if you realize just how bad ibuds are - you will definitely hear a difference! I noticed a huge difference when I upgraded to my first $40 IEM's.
  8. DaBird
    OK, I've done a little reading now on the HF5's and it sounds like they've got the answer for isolation.  However, I don't want that to be the only consideration.
    I get the impression (from numerous threads) that you really have to insert these things unnervingly deep into your ear canal, unless you get the Shure Olives or Comply tips or something.  Many say they're also cold and lifeless; somewhat lacking in bass. Since I'm on a bus, the lows are often the first sounds l lose - I'm assuming the isolation would help that though. 
    Others say the bass (although lacking) is precise and quick, not flabby and spread.  I think I'd like the more precise sound, given that I listen to a lot of jazz with moving bass lines, etc.  I can find them online currently for around $109 shipped.
    However, I'm dragging my feet after reading how you have to get these things positioned just right and then they're sound is golden - they seem kind of hit and miss.  I don't want to deal with a learning curve on how to precisely insert these things to achieve a good sound.  I just want to sit down and pop in my earbuds and enjoy.
    Others were mentioned above (e.g., DDM, IE7, FX500).  I haven't had time to dive into all these yet, but it was pointed out that the isolation won't cut it for public transport.  Is that true?  If so, then what other IEMs should I consider against the HF5 that WILL cut it?
    Is there something that gives great isolation, like the Ety HF5's, but less picky with positioning, and better sound all around (including the lows)?
    I really appreciate the opinions and advice - awesome forum here.
  9. controlmajortom

    I don't know where you're getting the positioned just right thing from, I have the MC5's, which should have a similar fit to the HF5's. With Shure Olives, I just put them in and go, no positioning needed. You have to stick them very far in to your ear canal though, which might take some time getting used to. That's how you get the great isolation though. 

  10. DaBird
    I came across it in a few spots - it 's probably not a big issue, but it was just something that left an impression on my mind as I tried to cram in some reading today. 
    Couple examples:
    1) The leading post in the HF5 Appreciation Thread:  "I think that the average user will find it really hard to achieve optimal sound with these. It took me months to finally get the sound promised. This is how I finally achieved truly spectacular results…" [goes on to describe a ritual of wetting the tips and implanting at precarious angles requiring a protractor]  "just tilt a bit to make it more like 65 degrees – the smaller angle being towards the face and the force going to the back of the head."
    2) Another one, which is actually pretty funny to watch, was the instruction video from the Etymotic website demonstrating how to insert. A lady reaches her arm around the back of her head to grab the top of her opposite-side ear and pulls her ear up as inserting. The video then says that it may help to open your mouth while doing this!!!  All I could think was, "How the heck did this make it past their marketing group."  (http://www.etymotic.com/technology/earinsert.html).  I can imagine myself elbowing my neighbors on the bus.
    That said, there are an overwhelming number of posts that claim these things are fantastic in both isolation and sound quality. I'll most likely go for it, despite the concerns, because the price seems good ($109), so it's not a huge loss if I want to sell them and try something else.
    Before I do that though, any other good options I should check out that offer great isolation and sound, but which possibly beat in terms of ease of insertion?

  11. controlmajortom


    All Etymotics achieve similar levels of isolation. So the MC5's, HF5's, and ER4's will give you the same amount of isolation, but with the same hassle of learning how to use. 
    I've always found Shure IEMs (or any long nozzle IEM) to be great for isolation. Of course, they take awhile to get used to as well. Honestly, if these are your first IEMs and you want great isolation, you're going to have to put up with the adjustment period of taking them in and out. It took me a few weeks too with my first IEMs.
  12. ljokerl Contributor

    I don't think that's entirely true as the MC5 is a dynamic-driver earphone and therefore vented. Using the same tips I get slightly better isolation out of my HF3 than my MC5. The MC5 is what I would consider 'highly isolating' while the HF3 is 'dangerously isolating'. 
    That said, I do agree that IEMs will require a slight adjustment period. It is possible to avoid the deep insertion form factor of Etys and still get above-average isolation but it won't be as high as with the HF3. The Meelectronics A151, Westone 1, and Klipsch Custom 3 are three sets I'd recommend checking out of that sounds appealing.
  13. RASeymour
    Last year I tried a few different IEMs at my very noisy gym.  Without going through all the specifics, the Ety 4s (similar to the HF3) won hands down.  I used the Comply tips. 
    FWIW, second place were the q-Jays, again with Comply tips.
  14. SkippyMcHaggis
    i agree with the comments about how you need isolation, for exterior noise, and for the ability to listen at lower volumes.  not only will it help your ears, but it will help your overall fatigue level.  (to test this, try riding to work with just ear plugs one morning.  cutting out all those decibels does amazing things for how you feel.)  i will admit that i don't know what IEM is more or less isolating.  I've mostly observed that the type of tip and quality of seal you get has the most impact.
    I've had good experiences with Shure's IEM's (have not tried the newest generations, but had e4c's for 5 years before i replaced them with UE TF10's for something different, and because i got them for a nice price.).  They're still the most comfortable IEM's I've tried.  As a guitarist, they really sound good with guitar music.  the grey "soft flex" tip they offer is my favorite.
    taking into account some potential fit issues that people have (not me), the Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10's can be found at the high end of your price range, and sound amazing with or without an amp.  They are a bit brighter than the Shure's I've had, but also have much better bass extension and great headspace.  I also feel they're decent at isolation.  I do listen to them "reversed".  Swap the left and right cable ends to the right and left ear pieces, wear them "upside down" or "backwards" and reversed (left in right ear, right in left ear) with the cable sticking up, over the ear style.
    personally, I don't like Ety's, mostly for the fit.  to me, they're like sticking pencils in my ears.  detail and quality is there, although the bottom end is not really enhanced or pronounced at all.  getting a good fit is so important for that to mean anything.
    at some point I'd like to try out the Fisher Audio DBA-02's or the RE-0's.
  15. shane55
    I mostly agree with |joker|. The MC5, ER4, HF5, or even the 6i isolator will give you what you want... generally speaking. Which one works best for you depends on several factors that only you will be able to determine.
    As for isolation, they are all good, and the Shure Olives work well... but for me the Comply P-series is better (in my ears) than anything for isolation. They are longer, provide very deep insertion and completely seal out most noise around me. Flanged tips provide only minimal isolation.
    With the Comply P-series... the DBA-02 is amazing, but you'll get very good results from the Etymotic line. The 6i Isolators are nice in that they are very compact. They are also relatively inexpensive and I found the sound to be fairly good.
    @ |joker|... I realy like 'dangerously isolating'  [​IMG]
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