Solid sound doesn't have to come at the expense of portability. Earbuds used to get a bad rap for offering lacklustre sound, but they've come a long way and many can seriously compete with their over-ear cousins. Some even offer noise isolation and super-comfortable fits. Here's a look at five great earbuds.
Photo by Anssi Koskinen.
Note: earbuds are a competitive category, so shop around. Prices are indicative of the best deals we could find at the time of writing.
Shure's sound-isolating SE215 earphones offer a great balance of comfort and sound quality for a good price. Often reviewed as offering sound comparable with earbuds much more expensive, the SE215s aren't even Shure's most expensive or audiophile-angled models, but those of you who nominated them praised their value and effectiveness in isolating outside noise while you listen to music or take a phone call. They're comfortable and designed to rest low in the ear, with the cable going either over or under your ears. The SE215s also come with multiple sound isolating sleeves so you can fit them to your ears. Shop around and you can find them for $120 or less.
Klipsch's Image S4 range offers a lightweight pair of earbuds that produce remarkable sound in a portable and comfortable package. The flexible and interchangeable tips let you pick the best fit without sacrificing sound isolation, and the drivers in the S4s provide full, deep bass and remarkable clarity in all ranges, considering their size. The more recent S4 IIs update the design of the original, adding flat cables for fewer tangles, fatter tips for a more snug fit, and bigger drivers in the earphones for better sound.
Etymotic Research claims its HF3 earphones are the most accurate noise isolating set under $200. That's a bold statement, but those of you that nominated them praised their comfortable fit, exceptional noise isolation and gorgeous sound quality. Many of you highlighted the fit of the HF3, which comes with multiple sets of tips designed to fit ears of any shape or size. If those don't feel right, the company will work with you to mould and fit a custom pair of tips for your earbuds. Combine this with Etymotic's smartphone controls on the headset cable and its Awareness app for iOS and Android, and you can boost the noise isolation to levels normally seen in over-ear headphones. They're not cheap, but they're impressive.
Bose IE2 Headphones ($120)
The Bose IE2 offer Bose's StayHear eartips, designed to keep the earbuds in place in your ears even during vigorous activity, with an eartip attachment that nestles inside the bowl of your ear while you listen. Those eartips also come in three sizes so you can find the one that fits you the best, or swap them out depending on what you're doing. The IE2s aren't specifically noise-isolating, but owners praise Bose for its sound quality and the design of the earbuds. For its part, Bose also touts the "natural" and "smooth" audio from the IE2s, noting the earbuds have an added audio port specifically to boost sound quality.
Although technically discontinued, the Ultimate Ears TripleFi from Logitech earbuds are still widely available online (and substantially cheaper than when they first launched). They're great earbuds — comfortable and sporting three different speakers with a sizable driver in a tiny package.