In-ear monitors (IEMs) are known and loved by commuters world-wide. When you just have to listen to music outside of your own home, IEMs save the day. Here is a list of the top ten.
1, JH Audio JH16 Pro ($1149)
From their inception, the IEMs produced by Jerry Harvey have been highly valued by the pro music industry. With his first IEMs designed for Van Halen (hand-crafted, and including a part from a pacemaker), JH continues to evolve and further his product. The JH16s are custom-molded to fit your exact ear-contours, so you need to have ear impressions taken beforehand. The 16 in the name refers to the total number of drivers – eight for each ear. This results in a symphony of frequency response – every element is neatly separated, defined, and made to shine. Were it not for the rather steep price, I’d buy these for the entire neighborhood.
2. Ultimate Ears 18 Pro in-ear headphones ($1350)
These behemoths of the IEM world have been compared to the Sennheiser HD800 (arguably the best headphones on the market). With the price topping the $1k mark, many would agree that the leap to the Sennheisers isn’t too far, but the portability is one factor that bulky headphones can never match. The Ultimate earphones are perfect for blocking out the entire world and listening for that audience-member’s gasp in the climax of a Brahms concerto, or the lazy buzz of a fly in the corner of a studio.
3. Shure SE535 ($549)
The SE535s are at the top of Shure’s range. Shure is renowned for their brilliant ergonomics, and have played an integral role in the evolution of in-ear monitors. With three drivers and an uncanny frequency response, these are IEMs that are going to truthfully present music as the artist intended. They fare mightily well when compared to higher-priced IEMs, but don’t hold back even one iota of sound quality despite this.
4. Shure SE215 ($129)
The SE125s are Shure’s entry-level offering. The classic Shure over-the-ear cable design makes for a great fit with little cable noise – the bass response is tight, and the highs are not the screech that so many IEMs provide. Good structural quality means that these IEMs are built to last. They punch well above their weight, giving you a solid bang for your buck.
5. Etymotic Research hf5 ($179)
Etymotic Research (founded by a well-respected audiologist and hearing-aid designer) is known for its incredibly accurate sound replication, as well as its use of interchangeable filters that can be mixed and matched to equalize the sound as you like it. Are the highs too piercing? Worry not. Just slip in a ‘grey’ filter and they’ll be reduced, but not dulled.
6. Westone 3 ($399)
Designed for performing musicians who need to hear nothing but their music in their ears, the Westone 3s provide an exceedingly comfortable and isolated listening experience. Westone’s name is foreign to most consumers, but becomes more frequently heard as you start listening to people who need to have performance-quality IEMs for the stage. They are a good buy, with no shortage of accessories upon purchase. 10 different pairs of tips and a leather pouch are just the beginning.
7. Phiaton PS 200 ($249)
With a striking appearance – resembling a fan turbine – these IEMs provide good sound and build quality with just enough flash to make people stare disconcertingly at your ears while you’re on the subway. The treble is bright but if you’re bothered by high frequencies, I recommend taking a look at another pair on this list. Nevertheless, the PS 200s provide an overall tone that one would expect from its price. It will not disappoint.
8. Spider Cable Realvoice In-Ear Monitor ($89.99)
Designed to accurately reproduce the human voice, these IEMs provide a delicate balance of warmth and articulation, while refraining from imparting a specific ‘color’ to the sound. The Spiders manage to pack each earphone with a quality that belies their price. A definite bargain.
9. Phonak Audéo Perfect Fit Earphone ($99 )
Using filters similar to that of the Etymotic hf5s, these headphones allow for a vastly customizable sound – a big difference when compared to the standard and unchangeable coloring that most headphones have. The name is honest – the comfort level of these IEMs is made immediately obvious to any listener. The sound quality is not staggering, but the customization offered allows for a much richer sound to be obtained with just a modicum of tweaking.
10. SoundMAGIC PL11 ($30)
With a price this low, you’d be excused for being more than a little wary. These IEMs perform above and beyond expectations, and offer unbeatable value for money. The sound quality is good, but can’t compare to the high-end IEMs listed above. For the price, though, they’re definitely worth considering.