Been on a bit of an IEM tear lately after a LONG hiatus. Decided this eve to dig out all the 'phones I have and check 'em out as well as get familiar with the MD Tributes and decide if I want to keep 'em or not. In the case of the J2 and the Tributes, they're not broken in (yet). The others have been extensively used. Sources are a 120gb iPod Classic, a Sony D-777, and a laptop with an Echo Audio IndigoIO card and Foobar2000 using ASIO drivers. Tracks were "Bye Bye Blackbird" from Patricia Barber's "Nightclub", "In a Heartbeat" from Koop's "Waltz for Koop", and excerpts from "Scheherazade" (Fritz Reiner/CSO RCA LSC-2446 SACD Hybrid re-release) First up, the baselines. Apple and Zune HD stock headphones: Some of you youngsters may not remember but at one time, Apple not only included AC adapters with iPods, they also included foam pads along with the headphones! At some point (perhaps when the iPod went video?) Apple decided we didn't need the pads anymore. MISTAKE! No 'pads, no seal, all suck. Microsoft, bless 'em, includes not only a set of pads, but several (in 'old skool' colors no less. Sony Walkman orange and Mura red pads anyone? Without pads? The iBuds wouldn't seal and sounded predictably awful. With? Nothing you'd want to use long term but they'll do in a pinch. Rolled off in the highs, lumpy bass, but the mids are reasonable and they're inoffensive and stay clean at higher volumes. No cymbal shimmer to be found here, though, and imaging? Yeah, whatev. The Zunephones were largely similar, albeit even MORE rolled off on the high end. Both very warm, very 'thick', heavy midbass, no pace, but hey, for stock they're passable. Driven to high volumes by everything. Next to the Jbuds J2. First impression: WHOAH! There's a high end! First-and-a-half impression: YEOWCH! There's a high end! If I had to pick a word to describe them? Grainy. The cymbals on 'Blackbird' do indeed shimmer, but they're too forward and there's no 'air' in there. The 'phone seems to have a peak in the mid-treble that'll tear your head off given some source material. Bass is, well, present. Kinda. It keeps up well enough and goes kinda deep, but it's decidedly one-note. No plucked-bass-strings to be found. Similarly, the impact and huge 'stage (artificial as it may be) on 'In a Heartbeat', were nowhere to be found. I got through approximately 30 seconds of the fourth movement of Scheherazade before I gave up. This ain't for Classical. Mids were similarly grainy and somewhat recessed. Mind you, for $14? They're a huge improvement over stock and construction is better than anything else I've seen at the price. For $9? They're a steal and sounded the same with everything I tried. The $70 list? Kiss my (*&@#$! Next, a pair of V-Moda sports I got at Costco as emergency replacements thanks to losing a Klipsch eartip. I quit after Bye-Bye Blackbird. Someone took a vacuum to these and sucked out all the mids. None to be found. Bass is there a-plenty however! Just not the way you want it. Think Star Jones' backside vs. Shakira (or John Candy vs. Enrique Iglesias if you're so inclined). Muddy, buddy, and just not any good. From there I tried a pair of MDR-EXQ1's I've had around for ages. Does anyone else have these? Is their pair as impossible to drive? Most inefficient 'phones I've ever used. Very polite, not muddy just... benign. These'd be great 'phones for napping music. Quite rolled off on the highs and inoffensive everywhere else. If anyone really wants I'll go into more detail on these. The indigo was the only source that could drive these to anything approaching high levels. An ancient Airhead (the AA version) just distorted. More later, including moving on to the Shure E500s, ER4Ps and trying out the Tributes.