Ask LH: Which In-Ear Headphones Would You Recommend?

Dear Lifehacker, Which in-ear headphones would you recommend for a budget up to $60 or $70? My main use will be for public transport so the more sound isolation the better. On that note, I'd also prefer ones that aren't too bass-heavy. Thanks, Budding Listening

Photo: Sony

Dear BL,

Alas, your timing is tragically poor — just last week Logitech was selling its Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10 Noise-Isolating Earphones for $330 off the RRP. We just checked back and they've unfortunately run out of stock. Bummer.

If your budget is set rigidly at $60-$70 you'll probably have to make do with noise-isolating headphones — these are different to noise-cancelling headphones which use digital signal processing (DSP) technology to actively cancel out the sound waves from ambient noise and are significantly more expensive.

Noise-isolating headphones, on the other hand, attempt to minimise the amount of extra sound that gets into your ear via physical means. This will usually involve a protective seal between your ear and the headphone. You can learn more about the differences between noise-isolating and noise-cancelling technology here.

With that caveat in mind, your first port of call should be to check out our Top 5 Earbuds Guide. While some of the models on our list are a little out of your price range, you can usually find much cheaper prices simply by searching online.

My personal earphones of choice are Sony's XBA-1 Balanced Armature Headphones — these come with a single balanced armature full-range driver per side which provide a deeper and richer audio over a broader sound range (so not too heavy on the bass).

The XBA-1s are specifically designed to cut down on external noise and improve music quality, which makes them a good choice for public commuting. When they launched last year, the XBA-1s cost $99.95 but we've since seen them online for as little as $40.

You might want to check out Sony's sports-aimed XBA-S65 version too, which are water-resistant and washable. These originally had an eye-watering RRP of $400 but can now be snapped up for around $80. If that sounds like more your bag, our guide to the best exercise headphones might also be worth a look.

If any audiophiles have some buying tips or model recommendations of their own, let BL know in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    Personally a big fan of the Klipsch S4 - it may be slightly above that price range, but you can find the older model (version II is out now with a flat cable) on eBay and the like at bargain prices from time to time.

      +1 for Klipsch for comfort and quality.

        Another +1 for Klipsch - they are good quality and the most comfortable in-ear buds I've tried.

          +1 more for Klipsch.

          I'd still have my set of Lou Reed x10i if the misses didn't wash the things.

      Really? I bought these and they were really uncomfortable, sound was pretty good but when I tried to take them out of my ears they formed a suction which hurt a lot to remove.... Maybe I'm doing it wrong :\

    This page is a great resource when shopping for new iems:

      Definitely check this out, One of the best headphone resources around!

    Sennheiser CX300s, factory seconds off ebay are as little as 12.95, even at the full price (around 90) theyre still worth it.

      I have $10 phillips in ear headphones that sound better than the Sennheiseer CX300 II's. They are good, but you can do much better for less.

        defiant is correct. plus the CX300s are very bass heavy. specifically what OP is not after.

    Beats By Dre

    Are you poor? Triple.Fis
    Are you not poor? Westone UM3X
    Are you somewhere between poor and not poor? Westone UM2, Shure 425/315s
    Are you an anally retentive classical music/juzz donk? Etymotic ER4s
    Are you Montgomery Burns? Senn IE800s.
    Are you a man who enjoys the company of other men? Heartbeats by Gaga
    Are you a 13 year old kid who instagrammed their wrist-cutting when My Chemical Romance broke up? Skullcandy anything
    Do you reguarly use the term 'synergy' or 'paralellize' or 'paradigm'? Bose. Preferably from David Jones.
    Are you a tosser with poor hearing? * by Dre

    Last edited 27/08/13 3:45 pm

      "Are you poor? Triple.Fis"

      Even on sale, they are over $150... This is for a pauper? You need to reset your expectations.
      I think I'll just rely on - but thanks for the colorful post...

    In that price range I've had the Klipsch S4 and Ajays 4. The Ajays are cheaper, had better bass, better quality (the cords on the klipsch are pretty thin and mine broke) and have non tangle cables.

    Only downside is you will get a bit of a rubbing noise from the non tangle cables on your clothes when exercising for the first month or so.

    I love noise isolated in-ears and I use them when I play guitar, but the idea of walking around without being able to hear any background noise is a bit freaky. Maybe I'm just paranoid, but what happens if someone is sneaking up behind you to mug you or whatever, you won't hear it coming! Haha yes it seems I am paranoid. Love my 1964Ears.

    I am using a pair of Etymotic MC5's which are around the $50-60 from Amazon.

    I call them my brain ticklers, and for good reason, their triple flange design blocks out a substantial amount of external sound, perfect for commuting. Sound quality is amazing too.
    I've heard great things from Klipsh too.
    Important thing is the type of flange used will determine the amount of sound blocked.

      yeah I have the hf5 and will gladly recommend the mc5 as a great budget alternative. I got mine from Headphonic in WA (free postage on most items) if you want a bricks and mortar retailer with helpful staff.

    Go Audiofly and support an Australian company at the same time. Their AF45's are in your price range and are a great set of headphones. Highly recommend them over several other brands I've tried in the same range.

    I have a pair of Heir Audio 4.Ai's, they are a small company, I'd go so far as call them boutique. But the are honestly the best earphones I've ever used, which pretty much justifies the astronomical price (500+). With 4 Balanced Armatures, they have some of the best Mid-range you can get in a mid-high priced UIEM.

    For the same price range, I'd also say look at the Logitech Ultimate Ears 900, they are a little weak on the bass, but otherwise an excellent choice for those looking for expensive earbuds. And, of course, with Logitech you have the extra piece of mind of Australian customer support that Heir can't provide.

    BUT, those are both WAY out of your price range. For less than 100 dollars, I'd say go for Sennheiser's CX300-IIs. They have excellent sound, and a price that can't really be beaten. As much as I LOVE Balanced Armatures (which is what the Sony's have), they really can't provide the full range of sound with a single BA, especially when it comes to bass. Minimum 2 to get a really decent dynamic range.

    Last edited 28/08/13 12:53 am

    It's always useful to remember that YMMV on any advice given.
    I know plenty of audiophiles that swear by monster cables and 128kbit CBR/ABR mps3 - both are extreme examples of poor taste, but droves of people swear by them.
    For fun, look at posts from 10 years ago... You'll be hard pressed to find anyone who didn't think 128kbit was CD quality ;)
    Apply the same logic to headphone advice ... And if you like the sound of 128kbit mp3s, just pick up $2 headphones from the reject shop and save yourself some money ;)

    This may just be me, but in-ear earphones have horrible quality compared to traditional flat earphones. I've never been happy with any past purchases, and they were high end ones around the $100 mark too. I always just get a cheap pair of $30 flat earphones and replace them every 3-4 months, it's worked a lot better for me this way.

    There's an increasing amount of evidence that in-ear headphones cause damage to the inner ear. With younger people wearing them longer, and at higher volumes, often to counter external noise, the risk factors increase. If you want to isolate yourself from public transport noise, then don't make the cure worse than the "disease".

      Sorry but you've got the facts wrong here. In-ear headphones provide better isolation so typically you do not need to turn the volume up as loud. The bigger problem is headphones with poor isolation where the user turns up the volume to compensate for the masking caused by environmental noise

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