A Guide to Some Great Sounding In-Ear Monitors

Editors Note: I asked Tai (better known as ClieOS on Head-Fi) to recommend some in-ear headphones to InnerFidelity readers because of his vast experience on the subject. He maintains numerous important threads on the subject at Head-Fi (IEM comparison; Earbud Roundup; In-Ear Monitor Basics) and has his own blog at In-Ear Matters.

I had a good laugh reading his article as some of his recommendations are very familiar to me, and have already been reviewed favorably at InnerFidelity, and some others I had never even heard of the company before. The number and variety of IEMs Tai has heard is spectacular. I should mention Tai lives in Malaysia, and a couple of the headphones he recommends are not available in the U.S. Thanks for the recommendations Tai.

Many thanks to Tyll for asking me to write a buying guide on in-ear monitors (IEMs) for InnerFidelity. With so many good choices of IEMs out there, I can certainly understand the difficulty of picking ‘the right one’. Normally, I’d prefer to make recommendations based on individual preference of sound signature, but for this guide I've created a list of earphones that are just really good for the price and worth recommending regardless of individual preference. I've broken the list into four price ranges, and then a few runners-up and a couple of earbuds.

In-Ear Monitors Under $50
For those who are in a tight budget but still looking for a great entry level IEM.

DUNU Trident ($40)

Though it might not be the best sounding $40 IEM you can buy, there is a lot going for the DUNU Trident. Most noticeably, it is one of the best built sub-$50 IEM you can buy. The laid-back and musical presentation also makes it a very easily listening IEM. It is the combination of build and sound quality that makes Trident a worthwhile recommendation.
Manufacturer Product Page
Head-fi review 1, 2, 3
My Head-Fi Review

SoundMAGIC E30 ($40)

SoundMAGIC is know for bang-for-the-buck products in the lower end of the market, and the E30 is no exception. While the plastic housing looks a bit cheap, the sound quality is certainly not. As the current flagship of the company, the E30 is best described as a warm and smooth sound that does no wrong.
Manufacturer Product Page
Head-Fi Threads 1, 2, 3
My Head-Fi Review

VSONIC GR06 ($50)
The new comer from VSONIC is the real bomb when it comes to accessories: 14 pairs of eartips (from hybrid style to foam), earguide, and a pleather soft pouch. Not limited to accessories alone, the IEM itself is well built and has a great sound. The mid centric sound not only brings vocal to life, but also has enough deep bass and detail to make sure you can enjoy different genres of music as well.
Manufacturer Home Page
Head-fi Threads 1, 2

COMMENTS
Inks's picture

Any ideas on upcoming retailers in the us for the TDKs? I'm going to assume there's going to be some since the IEMs appear on their US site.

The BA200 looks nice, I saw it's frequency response measured and it looked well compensated and overall pretty flat, similar to an LCD-2.

ClieOS's picture

As far as I know, TDK is going to release BA200 in the US, though somehow the Asian markets get their stock first. Buy.com will be a good place to look for TDK as I know they already carry most of TDK headphones line-up and likely will have the BA200 in stock once it reaches US.

droilfade's picture

Why aren't the Spider Realvoice IEMs not featured in this article? You have time and again said that they are one of the best sounding IEMs. Nive review though....thoroughly enjoyed it :)

EDIT: I just saw that this was not written by you, Tyll. My bad!

ClieOS's picture

Just to clarify, I did consider putting Spider Realvoice in the recommendation list under $50~$100 range. But there are only three slots in the same price range and Realvoice is up for some very stiff competitions. At the end, the choice to not put Realvoice in the list is because (1) it has already been recommended by Tyll on his holidays gift list and (2) I want to recommend something that are more easy-going and universal for both audiophiles and non-audiophile alike. Realvoice is a bit too mid centric, even though it is still a very good sounding IEM.

wandraaa's picture

how about brainwavz b2? Does it good enough to be in the list? :)

ClieOS's picture

B2 is a great IEM for the price, but the reason for not including it (and this applies to many other great sounding IEM as well) in the recommendation list has less to do with their performance, but the sound signature they have. They are simply too many good IEM to list down and the goal is to recommend IEM that can be accepted as really good sounding regardless of personal preference. That is, to compile a list of recommendation so that anyone, regardless of personal preference and being audiophile or not, can still enjoy the sound - thus why the much brighter and analytical sounding B2 is not included.

John Grandberg's picture
Isn't it amazing how much more you get for your money these days, compared to a few years back? I remember when $100 for the UE Super Fi 3 was considered a pretty good deal...
ulogin's picture

Good work!

I also wonder how are the BA100 of TDK. I heard that they are rather heavy in base.

Alondite's picture

I absolutely love my GR07s. Thanks again for the recommendation ClieOS.

Lunatique's picture

Tyll - Have you tested the Westone 4? Westone never supplies any frequency response graph for their products, and since they're not nearly as popular as other brands, it's almost impossible to find any independently measured frequency response graphs for them.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I have a request in with Westone and expect gear in the near future. Keep an eye out, I'll announce measurements in the monthly updates.
ClieOS's picture

@ John
Indeed. I can hardly keep up with the IEM market these days.

@ ulogin
Warm, smooth and mid centric is my impression of BA100. I won't say it is particularly heavy in bass, but it is certainly not lacking.

@ Alondite
Ah, I love my GR07 as well.

nunh's picture

article!

Would love to see an article rating active / athletic in-ear monitors that still sound excellent.

Such as in-ears that can endure jogging, mountain biking, working out - outdoors activities, water-proof etc.

Thank you!

ClieOS's picture

I will be interested to see if any company makes worthy IEM for active lifestyle as well. But as far as I know, the most popular offerings, such as those from Sennheiser, Audio-Technica and H2O just ain't that great as far as SQ is concerned.

belmont's picture

I'm surprised the Sunrise Xcape Impressive Edition isn't included.

I will admit to be surprised by your 'blurb' on the HA-FXT90, since my initial impressions of it was that it was quite similar to the TWF11's.

ClieOS's picture

X-IE is great sounding, but the recent batch seems to have build issue (*it has been resolved after the article was posted, as I was told by Sunrise). The choice to put FXT90 over TWF11 is because TWF11 doesn't isolate at all (though it does give it a great soundstage like an open 'phone) and the fit is not for everyone. In comparison, FXT90 can still give a similar fun presentation without any fit issue.

belmont's picture

Luckily I didn't have any issue with the TWF11 (I did get a couple of 'faulty' sets with the X-IE's overheating driver issue though, before getting one that worked well [edit: I think I should clarify I got them RMA'd instead of buying more copies...]), but as to the FXT90 vs TWF11 I was talking more about the treble since the TWF11 is famously smooth, and not say, crisp. (Essentially FXT90 was basically an easier fitting TWF11 for me with almost the same sound.)

I took a look at the TDK-BA200, and WOW, what a honker of a Y splitter. So needlessly huge... I think it's larger than the monitor housing itself. Looking forward to your full review though!

theOS_the_one's picture

Hi everybody!

Once again i am gonna ask for your help .smiley

I want to buy a pair of in ear headphones and i can't decide myself.indecision

I have made the next selection:

JVC HA-FXT90

Panasonic RP-HJE900

MEElectronics A151

Audéo PFE 012 

My favorite genres of music are: Chill out, Tech house, Deep house, Progressive, Minimal and sometimes Classic

And i will drive them with an iphone4s and Creative USB Sound Blaster X-Fi HD

Thank you very much!

theOS_the_one's picture

Nobody?

theOS_the_one's picture

Lets cut the Panasonic RP-HJE900 from the list and add Shure SE215 and Beyerdynamic DTX 101

Gracesheng's picture

have tried some of them, and fells great

Gracesheng's picture

know some of these models and love them. good choice

BryanL's picture

It's a good list of earbuds you have here !
What do you think of the Yamaha EPH-100SL ?
They are priced in the $80 range and the sound produced is really good (for that price of course).

Bryan
Stereocompare

Jim123's picture

thanks for this article

Can yo do an article about rating active / athletic in-ear

Such as in-ears that are made for outdoor activities likejogging, mountain biking, hiking, working out, etc.

steampunk's picture

Great review! I always wear in-ear headphones. Can you do a review about iphone's new airpods?

- Steampunk Artifacts

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