back to article Ten... in-ear headphones

It's time for another headphone roundup and considering we've already covered the bulkier over-ear and on-ear models, it was inevitable that in-ears would follow. After all, not everyone likes walking the streets, turning heads with a pair of oversized Mickey Mousers on. The market is inundated with hundreds of in-ear monitors …


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  1. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Perhaps, because...

      There's always someone out there crazy enough to try to sell them at the MSRP. Mostly the high street stores it seems.

    2. Lallabalalla


      because they got them from expansys

    3. defiler

      Used to have the older 530s

      They broke :(

      I got a pair of 420s half-price, and they're so close to as-good it's wonderful - especially when they "only" cost me about £120. Don't have that elitist factor though...

  2. Andy Farley

    What have you got

    In the £15 - £30 range?

    1. Anonymous Coward


      Check out Sennheiser CX300B MK II's they're especially not fantastic in themselves, but you can usually pick them up for around £20 and they have a reasonable sound range for that money, especially if you're playing average compressed 192kbps MP3s through them.

      I've been buying them for 10 odd years. I tried some Etymonic HF5s but the quality was just too good for the crap MP3s I listen to so I sold them on and went back to the Sennheisers, ha ha!

      1. darklord
        Thumb Up

        Love my CX300 II

        I have a couple of pairs of these and the Goldring 200s I love my CX's Perfect for my type of music. especially on MP3.

        The goldrings are too Trebly and clinical the CXs are warmer. Dont need to spend more and the last set of CX's cost me £13. Bargain

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'd go for

      Koss buds (the original not the sparkplug type) at the lower end and Sennheiser cx 300's at the higher end.

      There's no way i'd spend £100's on in ears. they're destined to break, and i'm not sure fidelity is that much of an issue when there's background noise of cars/commuters/colleagues/train etc.

      1. Citizen Kaned


        them sennies are shite!

        i bought 2 pairs for me and the wife to use on the plane to kenya last year. terrible things. so much extra noise from touching the cable and the poor rubber buds, its like they amplify sound when you move.

        i will never buy apple or earbud headphones.

        1. tath

          Cheap Sennheisers...

          If you buy cheap Sennheisers off the internet there's a hefty chance they're fakes... For those that have been disappointed.

          I can't see many people being interested in several hundred quid in ears tbh, I would've been more interesed in what you could get for less than £50. In ears are verging on disposable the way I get through pairs.

          1. darklord

            nope mine where not fakes

            Bought two pairs at different times and both from reputable companies both sound the same . one pair where 30 odd quid the second where £13

            They fit my ears perfectly with the smaller buds and they isolate beutifully on a 10 hour flight to orlando. I suspect the previous guy got fakes or had the wrong buds fitted. And i get no noise when i move.

            Shop around they can be had for a reasonable amount.

      2. AdamWill

        sort of the point

        "and i'm not sure fidelity is that much of an issue when there's background noise of cars/commuters/colleagues/train etc"

        half the point of in-ears is that by sticking into your ear canal they have very good isolation properties - i.e. they block all that crap out.

        I'm not sure about destined to break; I've had several pairs of high-end IEMs and none of them have broken. One Etymotics, two Shures. I traded the Etys, lost the first pair of Shures, and I still have the second. The only earphones I've had that have broken are some Sony EX55s, which are a pretty low-end, earbud model.

    3. Andy Farley
      Thumb Up

      I'm on my 3rd pair of

      Sennheiser CX 300-II's and I'd like summat that didn't break /quite/ so often. I'll have a look at the Koss.

      Cheers for the recommendations.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Avoid Sennheiser

        I was on my 3rd pair of Sennheiser in-ear buds when the left channel stopped producting sound after a week.

        I had my receipt so took them back to maplins for a full refund and bought some cheap no-make buds to tide me over, and to be honest, sound quality is ok but they have lasted for nearly 2 years in which space I could've gone through 4 pairs of Sennheisers!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Sound disappearing.

          I managed that by accidentally pushing wax into the mesh while attempting to clean them.

          In the end i just carefully punched the mesh out with a jewellers screwdriver. Seems to have worked ok, although obviously it'll ruin any guarantee it had (although the blocking with wax thing may have done that anyway). They haven't managed to get any crap down them yet in any case.

    4. J 3
      Thumb Up


      I like my Sennheiser CX500, got it as a gift (but it cost about $28 at the time on Amazon, don't know how much it was in quids). Sounds very good, at least for MP3s (I have most encoded as 192 or 256kbps), isolates sound pretty well (but not completely, which for me is a plus), comfortable for hours, has a volume control slider, about 1 m of cable length (I think), does not come out of the ear easily (which sometimes is bad, e.g. when the cable gets tangled somewhere...). The cable can be noisy when it bounces around, hitting you, but it comes with a clip that can be attached anywhere in the cable, which you can use to hold the cable somewhere on your clothes -- as long as you do it in a way that avoids the cable part between the clip and your ears hitting anything, it works great. Sounds complicated, but it's not; after doing it two or three times you get the hang of it easily.

    5. FIA Silver badge

      Sony MDR-EX300

      I've got a pair of Sony MDR-EX300s that have served me well for a few years now.

      The sound quality is good enough and they were 30 quid.

      I just demoted them to my work headphones as I got some MDR-EX500LPs for my main ones.

      I can't really tell the difference between the two, especially not as most of my music is on the iPhone or on the PC (so compressed anyway.)

      I thought the 300s were worth the extra over my previous ones (MDR-EX71s) but the 500s probably weren't worth the additional 15 quid over what I would've paid for a new pair of 300s.

      Amazon seems to have them for about 25 quid, although they're discontinued now.

  3. Alex C
    Thumb Up

    Interesting article and any chance of another?

    Would be greet to do a round up of in ear ones that also include a mic (given that many of us tote a smart phone that has enough space to be our main music player as well). Would be thrilled if you turn up a pair with an asymmetric / j-style cable too. The only ones I can find are the ever unreliable Heisenberg MM 50i which routinely die after 2 months.



    1. D@v3
      Thumb Up

      I have a pair of these

      Not sure if they work with other smart phones (i assume they do, but knowing what Apple are like, maybe they dont)

      They have a good mic, with volume control and 'function' button, and round the back of the head cable style.

      Very pleased with them, work well when I'm using my phone as an mp3 player, or as a phone.

  4. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

    Etymotic (any of them)

    Not in the list obviously but I have to give a recommendation for these. If you can tolerate the sealed ear tips that are required, they'll give better isolation than anything else out there that isn't custom moulded, and are designed to have as neutral a response as possible. Couldn't be happier with them.

    Checking the response graphs on HeadRoom suggests that they compare pretty well to the Shure 535, despite costing less than 1/5 as much.

    1. AdamWill


      I had ER4Ps a while back; the major problem with them is that the cable was absurdly microphonic, so you'd get incredibly annoying cable noise if you walked around (or, really, moved at all) while using them. Made them pretty useless for me. Are the cables better now? This was quite a while ago, the model where each earphone was a different color and the cable was a twisted-pair job.

      Frequency response curves tell you very little about sound quality; given that you can adjust the frequency response to be whatever you like, with no real impact on quality, using a decent digital eq on the source (hint: don't *bump* any frequency, leave the ones you want highest at 0dB and reduce the others), I find looking at frequency curves to be of just about no use at all in evaluating headphones. (Several tests have shown that if you use a very high quality eq to adjust the frequency response of a generally-accepted 'good pair of headphones' to be dead flat, essentially no-one likes the result; we all want some kind of happy-face response curve).

    2. Anonymous Coward

      I too was waiting for the Etymotic review

      Probably the ones most professionals use.

    3. Francis Vaughan


      Indeed. I would suggest that any reasonable review of in-ear phones needs to include the Etymotic ER-4S simply as this was pretty much the original and remains a favoured benchmark unit. It is used in a large number of professional applications and is the standard unit used for many psycho-acoustic research. It may (or many not) have been bettered over the years, but it remains both very good, is still available, and is the gold standard to beat.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You missed a big one...

    The Westone 4.

    I've owned my Shure 5s for about three years, and just got the Westone 4 a couple of months ago. If you think the 535s sound good, well, the Westones sound better. Crappy cables (way too thin) and the fit is a bit finicky, but once you get it right the sound is amazing. And they cost less (not by a lot) than the Shures.

  6. dogged
    Thumb Up


    Headset & mic roundup please, Caleb. Pretty please.

    Throw in a few wireless models, too. I'm sick of my office chair destroying headset cables.

  7. Duncan Watts

    But which are good for the train?

    One thing that I can never find referenced in the reviews is how much sound "leakage" (sorry not sure if there's a technical term) you get from these - I tend to watch tv on the laptop on the train on my commute, so my most important requirements are how much they drown out those around you, and how little sound can be heard by others - I'm trying to be responsible here! :)

    I recently got some Panasonic RP-HC55's, which are noise cancelling - which are great for killing the rumble of the train, however that just makes the annoying conversation of the women gossiping behind me even more irritating! Especially when I'm not listening to music but watching video where there are commonly more quiter sections.

    Any thoughts or suggestions on a reasonably priced solution that'll drown out the background noise without making any external noise?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      rule of thumb

      if someone else can hear your in ear phones, then it's too loud, no matter how cheap and flimsy they are.

      and from my experience of trains/buses, If someone sat 10 feet away can hear what music you are listening to, you have a serious issue with your hearing.

      1. Duncan Watts

        @rule of thumb

        Completely agree, but I want to get rid of external noise, which typically means turning it up louder, which I don't want to do, therefore my line of questioning :)

    2. AdamWill

      All pretty good

      All IEMs - that is, ones which really stick into your ear canal - will isolate pretty well. The further they stick in, the more isolating they'll be (but the more uncomfortable you may find them). It's pretty simple. Back when the market was pretty simple, with only 4 or 5 manufacturers, Etymotics were generally considered the most isolating, but I don't know if it's changed these days.

      'Open' on-ear / over-ear phones and earbuds (earphones which don't stick into your canal) barely isolate at all. 'Closed' on-ear phones isolate okay, and 'closed' over-ear phones can isolate very well, depending on how much work the manufacturer puts in.

      For the best isolation, you'd want custom moulds (which you can use with any IEM, but you can buy some very high-end IEMs which have a custom mould fitting priced in).

  8. Anonymous Coward

    F...f...f..479 nicker for a flipping pair of ear-buds!!!

    The world officially went made. Before you start don't even tell me you can tell the difference between a £75 pair and £475 pair! A trained audiotechnician maybe able to, but average Joe Punter, no way. Same as these pillocks who swear a £200 HDMI cable is better than a £15 quid one off Amazon!

    Also depends what you listen to, must people listen to some compressed 192kbps nonsense in MP3, some use FLAC players or direct CD but most do not. Then the type of music plays a part, hardly compare the ranges of some classical to some grindcore, as a stupid example.

    1. Lennart Sorensen

      Actually you can.

      You can tell the difference. The better question is, do you care about the difference enough to justify over 5 times the price? For most people that is certainly going to be a no.

      As for the hdmi cable, digital signal is digital signal and as long as the cable isn't so crappy it corrupts the digital signal, then there will be no difference at all. So no there is no difference, hence no one can hear one no matter what they believe.

      I do think the Shure 215 or 315 model would have been much more reasonable and interesting to review. The 535s are really not what most people are interested in. The lower models have the same cable design, but only a single driver (well two for the 425), but include a few less accessories. The 215's cost $99 in north america, so probably 89 or 99 pounds in the UK as per typical ripoff pricing done by north american companies.

    2. AdamWill

      yes, you can.

      yes, you can. headphone quality isn't audiophile idiocy until you get to the really high end; there's pretty obvious differences in the quality between a $70 and a $200 pair of IEMs. Whether that difference is worth that cost for you is a personal question.

      Also, the artifacts caused by lossy compression are quite different from the quality compromises in cheap earphones, so you can tell the difference between compressed and non-compressed audio on pretty cheap earphones (listen to the cymbals...) and you can tell the difference between cheap earphones and good earphones even with compressed source material. Obviously, good phones and non-compressed source material is the best combination, but even if you have compressed music a decent pair of phones may be worthwhile, depending on the exact circumstances.

  9. blkbam
    Thumb Down

    suction cups

    all of the ear buds in this article use that dreaded suction cup method of staying in your head that give me a headache and spins after about 15 seconds. how about a review of ones that don't use that method?

    1. Cameron Colley

      The SE 535s can use foam inserts instead.

      I'm guessing so can the Ultimate Ears and probably some others. Basically you squeeze some foam and allow it to expand in your ear canal -- no suction feeling but very good sound isolation.

  10. P.Nutt

    £470 Shurly You Cant be Serious

    For headphones!!!!!!!

    I mean, yeah the sound quality is probably up there with a choir of angels at that price but will the rest of us actually notice a difference (other than a big dent in the credit card)

    1. AdamWill


      yes, you would.

      actually, in a sense, good headphones are a budget option: you can get an idea of really, really good sound quality that would cost several thousand quid to achieve with a hi-fi setup, after you've priced out a good amp and good speakers. I have a good budget hi-fi setup (Pioneer 815 amp, Paradigm Mini Monitor 3 speakers) and a very good headphone setup (Grado HF-1 phones, Firestone DAC and amp): the total cost of both setups is pretty similar, but the headphone setup sounds a hell of a lot better. If you want to dip a toe into really high quality audio without shipping off thousands and thousands on high-end hi-fi components, headphones are actually a reasonable way to do it.

  11. jm83
    Thumb Up

    Nice buds

    I have a pair of Creative EP830 - £30 - £40 (anything less and their fakes) which work very nicely.

    I cant really compare them to any of the ones you've reviewed mind.

  12. hexx

    what about

    Apple In-Ear Dual Drive headphones? They're pretty good and as far as I know the cheapest (cca £50) dual drive headphones on the market. All they need is comply foam tips (supplied ones didn't really fit in my ears although 3 sizes are supplied).

  13. jai

    thanks El Reg!!

    I'd been waiting _forever_ for you to do a round up of in-earphones as my old ones dies over a year ago and I'd been making do with a cheap 7 quid pair from Maplin.

    But when I saw the review you gave the Reid and Heath's when you did the competition, and I failed to win a pair, I went ahead and got those anyway and they've been outstanding!

    So was a little worried to read this article in case it turned out I'd made a bad choice, but there's no way I'd pay that kind of money for the other Recommended options, so nice to know I got the right ones :-)

  14. spencer


    Just look up reviews for soundmagic headphones.

    Audiophile quality for not much cash at all.

    Remember to take all reg reviews with a pinch of salt because they only review what people give them. As such an awful lot is missed out.

  15. Steve Oliver 1


    Excuse me, but did you actually write "boom ting" in a Reg Hardware article?

  16. Cameron Colley

    Why review the cheapr Ultimate Ears?

    Why were the cheaper Ultimate Ears reviewed when the Shure top of the (consumer at least) range were reviewed?

    Personally I find the UE SuperFi 10s sound as good as the SE535's for less money, and they have replaceable cables -- the Shure had [have?] weak and non-replaceable cables.

    @Duncan Watts: Most, if not all, of these type of earphones don't leak and will block external noise. I know for certain that Shure, Etymotic and Ultimate Ears provide leak-free listening.

    1. Jay 2

      Re: Why review the cheapr Ultimate Ears?

      I agree! I've got a pair of TripleFi 10 with Comply foam tips and they're great. Before that I had a pair of SuperFi 5 Pro, but rather annoyingly they broke.

      By the time I got the 10s, UE had been taken over by Logitech and as such I felt the build quality and support had gone downhill.

      Between the two I had something from Sennheiser like CX300 which are OK for a stopgap, but if you've used better you'll be striving to get back.

      Not sure if I'd get UE again. Might plump for Etymotic or Sure.

    2. Chris Beach

      Shure's Cables

      Shure's had replaceable cables for ages.

      In the previous gen it was the lower half of the set, and now its the entire cable.

      But agreed comparing the 400 or 300 series would have better. The 535's are really IEMs.

      And for those saying whats the point, that's fine, as long as you also just use the speakers in your HD TV...

  17. ttuk

    kipsch image s4s

    I got a pair of these about a year ago for 60 notes and thought they were great value. They sound at least as good as the shure e2cs I used to have before. Nowadays you can pick them up for 35-40 pound, bargain..

    Also shure build quality isn't the best, I had a pair of shures and the cable went (housing disintegrated).. replaced under warranty and the same thing happened within a year or so.. looking on forums lots of other people have had the same problem.. there is something not right with their cable design..

    1. Trixr

      Big omission

      Yes, no Klipsch offerings in this list? They do excellent in-ear phones.

  18. Joe Harrison

    Octone FTW

    Try these - Octone IEM Pro In-Ear Monitor Earphones - Deep Bass Edition Professional

    Price goes up and down like a yo-yo (I got a pair for 5 yes five pounds recently) so just keep your eye on them until the price is right.

  19. Slartybardfast

    One thing missing nin the review

    Please when reviewing headphones could you include the cable length? It's an important factor (for me) when buying headphones of any type.

  20. Tom 38
    Thumb Down

    Pretty poor selection

    Look, I know its nice having these manufacturers throwing you a bone with £400 in ear headphones to review, but most people don't live in that world.

    Personally I've used Sony 'bass boost' in ear headphones (MDR-ED21LP). You can get them both online (£10-15) or in most electrical stores (£20-30). The sound is crisp and clear, plenty of the afore-mentioned bass boost. No volume control, no mic, doesn't make you sad when the cable frays and you have to replace them (as has happened to many of my Shure owning friends).

    I was really hoping for a review that would suggest alternatives to this kind of 'phone.

    1. AdamWill


      go to, really the only source you need for anything vaguely headphone-ish. they have threads a go-go for recommendations at any conceivable price point and range of needs. I could tell you what the consensus was for super-cheap phones a few years back, but it's probably changed now, so just go check the site.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      I've gone through a couple pairs of those Sony in-ear headphones in my life and I found the biggest problem is that they tended to die within a year or two for me. So, while they were cheap and the sound was decent, they never lasted long. So, lately I've taken to buying midrange stuff ($50-$100) and I've found that the sound is better. I've also found that they last a lot longer--about 4-5 years for me. So replacing a pair of $100 headphones every 5 years is just as cheap as replacing a pair of $20 headphones once a year.

      I too would love to try a pair of £500 headphones--and the author does only includes one pair for us to drool at--but I'm glad most of the headphones were in the £50-£150 range since this seems to be about the point where the manufacturers start producing quality work. And to be fair, there were a pair of £30 and £35 included in the article.

      Note: So far my Shure SE115s have lasted about 2 years and they cost about $100. I'll keep them until the cable does fray, which it will eventually--or until I get rich and can afford the £500 headphones.

    3. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: Pretty poor selection

      "doesn't make you sad when the cable frays and you have to replace them (as has happened to many of my Shure owning friends)."

      Your friends need to learn to solder!

  21. Morteus

    Wot no SkullCandy?

    I'm not a number cruncher, nor audiophiliac. I wedge 'em in my ear and if they sound good I use 'em. I tried Sony and two different sennheiser sets (one pair packed up after 3 days) but neither sounded as good as the SKs - alot cheaper too. Yes They were only about £20 (sennheisers were more than double that) but the bottom line for me is the sound, comfort and quality of build - and I don't mean because it has gold plated, angel dust coated *&%!£! super woofer/ driver/ tachyon driven/quantum doobries., mine's the one with the buckles up the back.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up


      I've seen a lot of SkullCandy headphones around the last couple years and was wondering if they were actually any good or if they were just painted to appeal to the modern counter-culture groups. So, I too would've liked to have seen at least one of them in there.

  22. Jim Barry

    Re: You missed a big one...

    Yes, the Westone 4 sounds fantastic. However, I completely disagree with the statement about the cable being "crappy". On the contrary, it is probably the best cable on the market. Thin, light and flexible, but at the same time very sturdy.

  23. Mark Aggleton
    Thumb Up


    As one of the winners of the RHA 'phones I can confirm the sound quality is excellent for the price-point. Definitely better than the Sennheisers I was using (CX400s)

  24. peyton?

    Nice roundup

    But one thing I'm always a bit curious about his how a model ranks against its predecessor (when there is one). Like the IE8s vs IE7s? Is it worth the price to get the latest etc etc?

  25. Anonymous Coward

    You forgot...

    Dr Dre Beats brah.. what the fuck?

    Seriously, handy article as I have just trashed my in ear Ultimate Ears tonight. I was looking into the Shure 215's. Anyone have any comments on those? Especially the cable which I have a tendency to break around the jack and the actual phones.

  26. Mark2410

    erm what now?

    oh my god, there are a whole heap of mistakes in the article. for starters erm how old is the IE8?

    oh and Comply is a particular brand of foam ear tips not some generic term for all foam tips.

  27. Rick Brasche

    no skullcandy offerings?

    bought the Skullcandy Asyms last year for fitting under a motorcycle helmet during a 14 hour (one way) ride. Still use 'em as my primary listening set for the mp3 player. Plenty of clear bass and under $40.

  28. Rattus Rattus


    "which makes listening to gritty dubstep and raw hiphop an absolute pleasure"

    This has got to be the most magical pair of headphones ever if it can make that shite sound good.

  29. Cyclist

    RHA Winner here too

    I was chuffed to bits when I found out I'd won these. They've replaced a pair of similar-priced Sony in-ear phones, and they are a smidge better than the Sonys There's not much in it - bass is a bit tighter, there's more space around the sound (it's the best way I can describe it), and the cord is much less prone to tangling than any other phones I've used. So a neat cost-effective upgrade, esp when someone just gives them to you. Nice.

    I'm more interested in the higher-spec ones tbh. I wouldn't mind a pair of the £500 jobbies for a prize. How about it El Reg?

  30. jim parker

    my favourite

    denon ah-c710 excellent sound

  31. symbol_soup

    Shure cables crack

    I have had three replacements for my Shures. The cables crack over about a year of normal use. That said, they have amazing sound but the def needs toget the cables sorted.

    1. ttuk


      Have also had cables go. My first set, and then the warranty replacement. Seems a very common problem. Untill the design changes I am avoiding shure

  32. Tom Chiverton 1 Silver badge

    what would be nice

    A summary table of them all would be good !

  33. Anonymous Coward


    I have a cheap pair of sony buds... (20 quid from asda)

    I use them for watching movies on my laptop at night so I don't wake the missus us...

    they do an awesome job at cutting out background noise and they don't leak sound out all over the place (waking the missus up)...the cable rub noise is non existent and the frequency response is plenty good enough.

    there is no way I would pay several hundred quid, or even 100 quid for a set of ear buds or even 50 quid.. I hit the limit at the £20 i paid for the sony ones I got !!

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