We all know that person who’s been sporting the same old, dirty, tangled-up headphones for years that are now falling apart. That person may even be you. While the plain white earbuds that came with your iPod were once a ubiquitous techie accessory, now many consumers are trading up for higher quality headphones.
Ready to ditch the run-of-the-mill earbuds that came in the box with your smartphone and spring for something better? Options for dependable in-ear headphones are vast and varied. Products can range in terms of price, comfort, sound quality and overall performance -- and a higher price tag doesn’t necessarily mean better quality.
Here are some of the best earbud headphones out there, for different budgets and needs.
Klipsch Image S4i II
Klipsch has designed versions of these noise isolating in-ear headphones that cater to both iPhone (S4i) and Android (S4A) phones. The Android version pairs with a free app you can download to set up controls on your phone. Both models have a three-button inline control with microphone that allows you to answer calls, skip tracks and adjust volume.
Klipsch’s patented oval-shaped silicone ear tips make them extra comfortable and easy to wear. It comes with tips in four sizes to fit different ear types. The secure fit adds to the product’s solid sound quality. The second generation (hence the II) features a flat cable is meant to keep the cord from getting tangled up -- an excellent design improvement.
Sennheiser MM 70s or 70i
Though known mostly for their quality over-ear headphones, Sennheiser also makes some great earbuds that share the same big, full sound. At the more affordable end of their product spectrum, but still offering excellent performance, the MM 70s and 70i (for Apple products) are a good value choice. There is an inline remote control with an easy volume slider and a convenient microphone for making calls. The earbuds are simple, lightweight, comfortable and easy to fit with six different size tips included in the pack. While you won’t get the noise-cancellation performance of other more expensive earphones, the MM70 sounds clean and enjoyable.
Etymotic Research HF5
The HF5 earbuds from Etymotic offer excellent sound quality and great noise isolation performance at a good value, compared with some super high-end models that run over $300. The headphones come in three colors -- black, colbalt and ruby -- and include three sizes of ear fittings, which fit most ear types comfortably. You can also opt to go for the company’s Custom Fit earmolds, where you will visit an audiologist to get specially-fitted molds made just for you.
THe HF5 model doesn’t have an inline control panel or microphone for making calls, however it is a super choice for music fans for its stellar, crisp sound.
Bose QuietComfort 20 or 20i
These high-end in-ear noise cancelling headphones from Bose deliver a secure, comfortable fit and super sound quality. The QuietComfort 20i (for Apple products) and 20 (for other devices and smartphones) come with three different size eartips, featuring a winged design that rests against the ear for an extra-stable fit.
The cord has an inline control panel and microphone for making calls and skipping through your music. There is also a slim, rectangular battery pod on the cord near the plug end that powers the device’s impressive noise cancellation function -- however the pod is a little bulky. Bose says that the rechargeable battery gets up to 16 hours of life. There is and ‘Aware’ mode toggled by a button by the microphone, for when you want to turn off the noise cancellation and tune into the rest of the world.
For consumers looking for an ultra-luxe listening experience, the brilliant sound quality of the SE535 are “shure” to please any audiophile’s discerning ear. These sound-isolating earphones come in clear and metallic bronze. The box includes three sizes of ear tips and two sizes of universal foam tips to help you find the right fit (a custom fit options is also available). But the superior audio is what garners the price tag here -- the product features “Triple High-Definition MicroDrivers,” meaning that each earbud contains a tweeter and two woofers that work to create a crisp, full sound with all kinds of music.
One cool attribute of the SE535 is the detachable cables, which easily snap off the earbuds. This way, the cable can be easily replaced if it gets damaged. Shure’s SE line also includes models at different price points, so if you are not ready to drop 500 bones on a pair, you could try the SE215, SE315 or SE425 ($99, $199 and $299) for a similar experience.
When it comes to high-end earbuds, the sky’s the limit -- we’ve even seen pairs for up to a grand. Only serious audiophiles need apply.
From the average music-lover and to the most avid listeners, there are many quality options that can fit your price point -- you just need to decide how much you’re willing to spend on your listening experience. How many hours a day do you spend using your headphones? How important is sound quality to you?
And remember that everyone’s ear is different and fit is very important to getting the best sound quality with earbuds, so you’ll probably want try before you buy.
Have a favourite pair we’ve missed or find this list helpful? Let us know in the comments below!