Gifts for Geeks - In search of quality earphones

Gifts for Geeks - In search of quality earphones

Summary: With all the talk about iPods and Zunes (not forgetting all the other portable media players out there) I'm surprised that there isn't more talk about quality earphones.  After all, these are the business end for most of these devices!

TOPICS: Tech Industry

With all the talk about iPods and Zunes (not forgetting all the other portable media players out there) I'm surprised that there isn't more talk about quality earphones.  After all, these are the business end for most of these devices!

The single thing that never fails to strike me about many of the players on the market is the lack of thought put Above all it's comfort and the quality of the output that mattersinto the earphones.  Maybe it's me but those simplistic earbuds that come with modern PMPs just don't impress me one bit.  Maybe I have non-standard ears, but I can never seem to keep the earphones in for more than about 30 seconds before they fall out and need refitting.  I then have to repeat this process until I get bored of it and replace the earphones with either an in-the-ear or over-the-ear set.  I wear earphones a lot over the course of a week between listening to music and audio books (I'm currently in the middle of Stephen King's Lisey's Story which is nearly 19 hours long) so I need them to be comfortable, unobtrusive and deliver good quality output. 

I've been on the look out for good to high quality earphones.  Two names stand out from the crowd:

Of these, four products stand out as interesting and worthy of further investigation:

  • Shure E3c
  • Shure E500PTH
  • Sennheiser MX 75 Sport
  • Sennheiser MX 90 VC Style

Now, comparing these earphones on paper, there's one difference that stands out - price.  While the Sennheiser MX 90 VC Style are about $70, the Shure E500PTH cost $499.  Yes, there's a huge difference in spec between the earphones listed here (for starters, the E500PTH has a Push-To-Hear Control which allows you to hold a conversation without removing your earbuds) but above all it's comfort and the quality of the output that matters.

Over the next few weeks I'll be posting reviews of various earphones from both Shure and Sennheiser, but in the interim I'm curious - what earphones do the geeks who frequent ZDNet wear?  Do you use whatever comes with the personal media player you choose or do you hunt out better quality earphones?  What qualities are important to you?  How much would you be willing to spend on a set of earphones?

Topic: Tech Industry

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  • I had the same problem

    It seemed like everyone was selling those hard plastic earphones, and maybe I just have nonstandard ears, but every time I tried one of those, they'd never stay in my ears but would fall out. Even if I could get them to stay, they were too hard and hurt. I now use a pair of Koss earphones with tapered foam cushions. They fit well, don't fall out (usually), don't hurt, and sound pretty good. They also don't cost $499 either. Forgot the price, but I believe they were around $20 at Best Buy.
    A.Typical Zork
    • I think you nailed it!

      "maybe I just have nonstandard ears"

      I think that it's just that everyone has nonstandard ears. I'm just looking at all the sleves that came with my review sample Shure earphones and there's a bunch of different sizes.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
  • Shure all the way

    I only have the cheap ones (cheap being a relative term!) but the sound quality is absolutely amazing. The other thing that I think is important to point out is the safety factor. Because earphones like the Shure block almost all outside sound, you can keep the volume much lower while actually hearing much more.

    Complaints? Depending on how much earwax you make, these aren't headphones you will want to share with anyone. They also rely on forming a seal in your ear and this is sometimes difficult to achieve. And when you do get that good fit, they are a bit hard to take out. I didn't realize someone made a "push to talk" feature but I can certainly understand why such a feature would be very useful!
    • Yeah

      "these aren't headphones you will want to share with anyone"

      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
  • grado or akg

    always replace the headphones, it's a cheap and highly effective upgrade.
    I have the cheap Sennheiser in-ear phones for workouts, and the AKG K26P for general use. The Grado SR60 is probably a slightly better phone, but preferred the AKG for better ambient-noise-blocking. Either of these will give you all the geek stylin' you can bear ;-)
    • Ahhh, Grado headphones ...

      ... I remember that brand - had a set years ago that were excellent.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
  • I have a pair of Sony . . .

    Earbuds that I've benn using for the last ten years. My wife got them for me for christmas along with a Panasonic MP3 player (neat little thing. I'll have to tell you about it sometime. If you want to see the specs, I think that you can still see them on the Panasonic website. Model # DV-50). The Sony earbuds cost $30 back then, and I haven't seen anything like them from Sony since. They have a built-in volume control, and the sound is great!!! you can get some Sony Earbuds at Wal-mart for about $20 today, but they don't sound nearly as good as the ones I have . . .
  • The Senns literally just arrived at my door... I was reading this, so I just had to comment.

    First, the packaging is beautiful, a little museum-like display; the package even closes with little magnetic buttons. It's very well thought out to hold the cord and sliding volume control without damaging anything when removing them. It also comes with a carrying case, with a built-in clear plastic frame for supporting the earpieces and wrapping the cord.

    The earphones have an interesting built-in volume control, sort of a tube that you can slide up and down the cord; it took a few seconds to figure out how it works.

    The sound is terrifc, and I immediately found them comfortable. They have an unusual little extra piece that fits in your ear, but when they're in they make perfect sense: they hold the earphones in a consistent position in your ear canal, making the resonating chamber (and thus the fidelity) more predictible.

    I'm listening to orchestral winds and triangle (Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis) right now, and it's thrilling.
    • Which model?

      Which model you got?
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
  • Koss Portapro

    The best sounding lightweight headphones I've ever tried. I haven't had them long, so I don't know how they'll hold-up, but Koss has a lifetime replacement warranty (you just pay shipping).
  • Include Ultimate Ears in your reviews

    I find the Ultimate Ears line to be quite good ( and I found a pair of the 5 Pro models for US$169 online. They also have a pair with a bit lower specs available for less than US$100 that sound very good as well.

    My entire music listening experience has changed with the inclusion of these earphones.
    palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
    • I'll see if I can get a set

      ... :-)
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes