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The Best In-Ear Headphone

posted by on May 15, 2013 in Headphones, Music and Video, Home Audio, Guides & Reviews, Shopping :: 4 comments

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Earbuds came into style with the rise of the iPhone and no smartphone or MP3 player worth anything ships without a pair. Unfortunately, most aren't worth even taking out of the box.

When shopping for an upgrade, keep this in mind: Earbuds come in two distinct types—those with ear speakers that sit on or hover over the ear canal and allow you to hear ambient noise, and true in-ear buds with speakers that fit inside the ear canal and eliminate up to 90 percent of ambient noise. Most free earbuds sit outside the canal, In-canal earbuds help preserve your hearing since you can listen to music at lower levels and still enjoy the subtleties.

What to look for

  • Multiple eartip sizes and shapes; the more choices you have, the more likely they will fit your ears correctly
  • Long cords. In-line controls and mics, preferably ones that work with a wide range of smartphones and not just iOS devices
  • Natural-sounding, rounded audio that handles the high and middle ranges well.

Prices valid as of May 15, 2013.

Editor's Choice: NOCS NS800-001 In-Ear Earphones

NOCS NS800-001 In-Ear EarphonesIt might not seem like a pair of tiny earbuds are capable of producing rich, natural audio, and maybe most can't. The NS800 achieve this by utilizing balanced-armature technology to deliver music that's more faithful to what the recording artist intended. Treble, bass, and midrange performance are all top-notch and the buds make a wide range of genres sound great. Just don't pass judgment on them until you've broken them in for a few days. With three different eartip choices, most people will find them very comfortable.

Style: In Ear
Controls: In-line three button, mic; compatible with iPhone
Noise cancelling: Passive isolation
Eartips: six pair, two each of three sizes, standard round silicon
Wired: Non-detachable cord
Loudness: 106.6 dB

Price: $199 on, $189 on Amazon

Entry level: The House of Marley EM-JE000-LI Smile Jamaica

The House of Marley EM-JE000-LI Smile JamaicaYou don't have to spend a lot of money to upgrade your earbuds thanks to these Smile Jamaicas from House of Marley. The sub $30 price is enough to make anyone happy, but there are other reasons to grin. You'll get powerful bass that doesn't overwhelm too much and overall well-rounded audio. The fabric-covered cord sports a one-button remote and mic that works with both iOS and Android. The buds come with three silicon eartips to fit most ears.

Style: In Ear
Controls: Optional in-line one button, mic; compatible with all phones. Optional in-line three button, mic; compatible with iPhone
Noise cancelling: Passive isolation
Eartips: Three sizes, standard round silicon
Wired: Non-detachable cord, three options: no control, one button control, three button control
Loudness: 98dB

Price: $30 on and Amazon

Mid-range: Beyerdynamic MMX 101 iE In Ear Headphone

Beyerdynamic MMX 101 iE In Ear HeadphoneThe MMX 101s offer a nice balance between high end audio quality and affordability. These earbuds deliver rounded bass and clear treble plus powerful volume, all in a light and compact package. Though the midrange doesn't sparkle as much as more high-end buds, the overall quality is pleasing for the price. On the cord you'll find a one-button control for answering calls and pausing music on iOS and Android devices.

The package also includes a headphone/mic splitter so that you can use the MMX 101s for video chats on your computer as well.

Style: In Ear
Controls: In-line one button, mic; compatible with iPhone, Blackberry and HTC, adapter accessories add compatibility with Nokia, Sony, Ericsson, Samsung, Motorola, LG.
Noise cancelling: Passive isolation
Eartips: Three sizes, standard round silicon
Wired: Non-detachable cord
Loudness: 102 dB

Price: $125 at, $70 at Amazon

High-end: Altec Lansing A1 Custom Single Driver

Altec Lansing A1 Custom Single DriverEven though most earbuds come with eartips in multiple sizes, it can be hard to find a pair that fits and stays in if your ear canal is odd in some way. Too big, too small, whatever it is, there are some people that have to deal with one or the other bud dropping out constantly. The solution for some is to just wear over or on-ear headphones and move on, but if you prefer in-ears, there is hope.

Altec Lansing's A1 earbuds are custom made to fit your ear canal. It means finding a company-approved audiologist to take a mold of your ears (a service included in the price) and waiting a couple of weeks for the headphones to arrive. Once they do, you'll never have to worry about the buds falling out again while you enjoy the high-end audio quality.

Style: In Ear
Controls: None
Noise cancelling: Passive Isolation
Eartips: Custom silicon
Wired: Non-detachable cord
Loudness: Not provided

Price: $500 on

Need more help deciding which pair of headphones is right for you? Check out our story on how to buy headphones.

Discussion loading

Compatibility with Exercise Equipment at Gyms

From Robin Colner on May 16, 2013 :: 9:22 am

I recently bought two pair of earbud earphones. One is made by Sony (purchased at Best Buy) and the other I ordered because the cord can be zipped to prevent tangling. Neither work on the equipment at my local Equinox gym so I can’t use them to watch and hear the televisions when I am on their expensive elliptical machines. This makes me angry! I asked the manager who told me I needed to make sure the specs were correct. What did he mean and why is there no universal standard for earphones? Thank you.


I'm not sure what he

From K.T. Bradford on May 19, 2013 :: 10:09 am

I’m not sure what he meant because there is a universal standard for headphones. Most headphones have a 3.5mm jack that fits into almost anything—laptops, iPods, smartphones, etc. Does the equipment at Equinox not have that kind of jack? If so, find out what type of jack it has. Sounds like the stuff at Eqinox is not standard…


This post has not been

From Ted Lee on January 12, 2015 :: 12:24 am

This post has not been updated,
How about Sony XBA-4 in-ear headphones
Check out some best Sony Earbuds


I don't like this kind

From Bobby on February 04, 2016 :: 12:17 pm

I don’t like this kind of design, it feels weird, how are you supposed to wear them? The way they look it looks as though you have to jam them straight into your ear canal or something and I don’t feel comfortable with having a foreign object or really anything jammed into my ear, I could rupture my ear drum and there goes my hearing. Of course the method I found to secure them is still uncomfortable because it feels like they’ll fall off at any moment, I liked the older design better, you know, the earphones… The design where it only required you to fit the bud on your outer ear, these new designs are weird and confusing, they should come with instruction manuals or something.


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