Can the greatest IEMs compete with the greatest Headphones?
Jun 12, 2009 at 5:10 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 16


Headphoneus Supremus
Jul 8, 2007
Do you think it is possible for a great set of IEMs (UE11, UE10, JH11, JH13, ESX, W3) to ever sound as great as a great pair of headphones (HD800, R10, HE90, Omega2, K1000) other words, as great as IEMs get, are they capable in your opinion of providing the satisfaction of a world class headphone. If so, how come? If not, how come?
Jun 12, 2009 at 5:49 AM Post #3 of 16
Admittedly, I've never heard a super high end custom fitted iem, but I find it very difficult to believe the soundstage of iems could ever be as good as quality open phones (HD800, K1000, K701 etc) just from the fact that iems have no room to breathe, can't have angled drivers, aren't open etc.
Jun 12, 2009 at 5:53 AM Post #4 of 16
I always thought the IEMs are just different from full-sized headphones as the headphones are different from set of speakers. If I have to make ranking, I would say:

Speakers > Full-sized headphone > IEMs

But, I never had experience with high-end IEMs or headphones (nor speakers), so I am assuming based on experience with low to mid-end cans.
Jun 12, 2009 at 6:01 AM Post #5 of 16
IMO, headphones gives you a different resolution of music compared to IEMs. IEMs cannot give you the feeling of some music (world/new age,etc), you have to use headphone at least unless you can invest in big speakers.
Jun 12, 2009 at 6:34 AM Post #6 of 16
To me my balanced ER4 can in many aspects rival the best full size phones I have heard.
Jun 12, 2009 at 9:36 AM Post #7 of 16
I have to say I enjoy IEM's more and more. Haven't really found the same accuracy and control in Full-size headphones as in my ER-4's. But they have to be given proper amplification too.
Jun 12, 2009 at 6:38 PM Post #8 of 16
I really do not think so.
To me the small size imply that there are too many compromises performed, which have impact on the sound quality. They may be able to reproduce the same frequency ranges, but not the sound stage, airiness, ...

That is my opinion though, and mind that I have never heard the UE11, UE10, JH11, ...
Jun 12, 2009 at 8:40 PM Post #9 of 16
From my experience, my K701 absolutely wipes the floor with my E4C. No contest.... and the Shure E4C was not too long ago, one of the high end Shures. (just one notch below the E500/SE530)
Jun 12, 2009 at 8:52 PM Post #11 of 16
I just picked up a pair of (used) ER-4S, having owned a pair about 4-5 years ago (which I really enjoyed at the time). IMHE, the clarity, balance, detail and intimacy of the ER-4S are hard to beat with any headphones I've tried to date.

Also, in many ways, I prefer that in-your-skull headstage of the ER-4S: such peerless isolation and a real experience of "solitude" with the music; I very much like that cordoned off listening experience! : )
Jun 12, 2009 at 9:30 PM Post #12 of 16
I think the strength of IEM is its noise isolation capability. In terms of sound quality IEM cannot compete with full-size headphone
Jun 12, 2009 at 10:42 PM Post #13 of 16
I have never actually put an IEM in my ears so can't really comment... but I do know that the full-size option is better than iBuds
Jun 14, 2009 at 3:17 AM Post #14 of 16
It strikes me as funny that most of the persons who have responded so far apparently have no experience with high-end IEMs.

My HD800s arrived last week, and I have listened to them a fair number of times, but mostly they have just been burning in. Now that they have about 200 hours on them, I'm going to compare them much more carefully to my UE 11s. On an extremely preliminary basis, I can really hear that the UE 11s emphasize bass more and the HD800s are even more resolving in the middle ranges and higher. I was surprised that I did not hear a big difference in soundstage, except that the somewhat greater resolution of the HD800s makes it somewhat easier to pick out separate instruments, making it easier to place their location.

So I do not doubt that the HD800s are going to win the overall comparison, but the contest is not hugely lopsided. The UE 11s are terrific headphones; they are clearly better than my balanced HD600s; and I wouldn't be surprised if some recordings or types of music sound better with them.
Jun 14, 2009 at 4:29 AM Post #15 of 16
Full sized headphones have more capability per dollar, but only in proper conditions. I can only enjoy my grados when its silent, otherwise the lack of isolation bugs me. I prefer IEM's in most real world situations. Speakers are also supirior to headphones, in proper conditions of course.

Thats the thing, IEM's and most closed headphones provide peace of mind off the bat. With open cans, I get so sick and tired of hearing barking dogs and screaming drunks in my music. Isolation is truly critical if you want to hear low level information.

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