Mobile phones have evolved so much that even a 5k rupee phone can provide very decent music playback and majority of the smartphone offer stunning audio quality and also support wide range of lossless codecs. But, often, these phones are bundled with poor quality earphones that negate the audio quality. Even a budget IEM like Soundmagic PL11 makes the audio quality much better. I had to ditch IEMs bundled with N900 and get a quality set to get better audio quality but after the burn-in, even i couldnt believe that there is so much diffference. Here, in this article, I will list few hit models to make it eassier for you to buy a new IEM.
Not everyone can afford to get high quality IEMs and Soungmagic is poor man’s Sennhieser. Soundmagic is chinese audio product maker and unlike most chinese brands, Soundmagic actually designs very god quality gear.
PL11, their entry level IEM is made for bass lovers, PL12 on the other hand is the exact opposite and is preferred by those who like as less bass as possible. PL18 is for those who prefer clean and balanced audio quality. All these three are priced at around 700 rupees in the market. Please do note that you need to be a bit careful with the cable and pin. The build quality is good but they may not take rough use. So, be a bit careful when you keep them in your pocket or try to pull them out and do not bend the 3.5 connector too much. Though they come with a six month warranty, it is better to be safe as most brands will void warranty if the damage is accidental.
PL50 costs around 1.5k and is among the best IEMs inside 3k. Extremely well balanced audio, punchy bass and wide soundstage define this IEM. The frequencies are well separated, the build quality is good and is a favourite among audiophiles among VFM IEMs. One great feature is the adjustable bass using bass knob on the earpiece, similar to Sony’s ‘megabass’ setting provided with their players. The package includes a carry pouch, three varieties of eartips (traditional silicon tips, double flang tips and foam tips) and couple of connectors/adapters. So, when it comes to bang-for-the-buck, there is only one IEM that can match this IEM, the mightly Head-Direct RE0. Do note that PL30 is over the ear style IEM and it is better to use the earclips and wear them over the ear to reduce the microphonics generated by cable movement and also helps the buds stay in place while doing workout/jog etc.
No introduction is necessary for Sony. Sony brought IEMs to mainstream by packaging them with their walkman phones and premium walkman PMPs. Among all the IEMs that I tried, Sony’s were the ones that lasted longer. The first one lasted more than a year and the second one (purchased about a year ago) is still going strong. So, in terms of reliability, there are well above many budget IEMs
MDR-EX50LP, priced at 1000 INR, is one of the best in comfort. The hybrid silicon tips are soft and doesn’t cause any irritation on long use. Angled earbud design makes it easier to wear the earphones and also provide a secure fit. Audio quality is trademark Sony. Balanced sound with good bass and great mids and highs. The soundstage though is not as wide as you can get with PL50. The retail package is modest. Sony provides just three sets of eartips. If you have a budget of 1k and are reluctant to go with non-reputed brands, this would be your best bet.
MDR-XB20EX, is part of their XtraBass lineup. This IEM has bass, bass and bass and is made fo bass addicts. The bass is so heavy that it overshadows everything else. If you love head thumping and ridiculously high amount of bass, this one is tailor made for you. The design looks superb, the angled earbud design provide very good seal and is secure. Sony has included a carry case with this set. Price of this IEM is around 200o INR.
Do note that Sony does not provide any warranty for earphones and the maximum they can do is replace the piece in case of malfunction in 24-48 hourse since purchase.
Like Sony, Philips is one of the most successful brands in Audio and Video gear. From cassette players to PMPs to HTs, they have some very good products. For long, Philips is underrated brand in IEMs. I have seen people buying overrated products from Bose, Sennheiser and disregard Philips even before trying them. I myself have used couple of philips products from speakers to full size headphones and my current IEM set is a Philips. They ceratinly make some exceptional products.
SHE9800/97 is my favourite product to date among sub 2k IEMs. The design looks a bit fat and odd at first look but do note that it is what makes this one of the best IEMs inside 2k rupees. The 13.5mm driver, probably the biggest in the price range gives unbelievably good audio quality. the soundstage is wide, the audio is very well balanced. This set has perfect amount of bass and excellent mids and lows, each note is clearly audible and well separated. The angled acoustic design (angled earbud) with super soft silicon tips provides comfortable and excellent fit with no microphonic noise. If you have 2000 rupees in hand and want a great set of earbuds, either get this one or get SoundMagic. Given the better build quality and better soundstage, I would go with this one anyday. There is a six month warranty provided by Philips for this set. Do note that it is a bit difficult to find this set now but the successor, SHD9750 is as good as this one and they have better design.
SHE9700/98 is designed for bass lovers. The bass is not overpowering like XB20EX’s bass. In this case, the bass is rich and deep. Consider this as 9800 with more bass and less balance. Also gone is the angled earbud design but that should not effect the fit much. Thankfully, Philips has used supersoft silicone for eartips for optimus comfort. Priced at 1.5k, this is another VFM set aimed at bass lovers.
Head-Direct RE0: One Word. “Legendary”. This is without a doubt the best IEM available inside 5k. A favourite among audiophiles, it gets much better if used with an amplifier. The package is terrific. Comes with 75cms extension cable, carry box, 3 pairs of single flange tips, two pairs of small and large double flange tips, five paris of replacement filters and a shirt clip and the build quality is terrific. There is a bit of microphonic noise from cable and hence it is better to wear it over the ear and use a shirt clip to keep the cable from rubbing against clothing. Thanks to head-direct for providing different types of eartips, one will have more than one choice of tips for secure and comfort fit. When it comes to audio quality, even most IEMs that cost twice or thrice will find it difficult to match this monster. Superwide soundstage, extremely good bass, pitch perfect mids and lows are so good that you will feel like you are sitting in a studio (given that quality audio is used). Bass lovers may not like this set as the audio is balanced and never lets bass or other frequencies overpower other frequencies. Do note that it is better not to use this with average quality audio source/files as that makes this seriously underutilized.
Klipsch Image S4 is a premium quality IEM for bass lovers. Lets say that this one is RE0 with more bass. The build quality is superb, has unique look to it with bullet shaped buds, the package is good and you have the Klipsch signature audio quality. Costs around 4000 rupees and comes with a 1 year warranty.
Nuforce NE6: Priced at 2.5k, this is another gem of an IEM. Infact, this one is better than Image S4. The only problem is the scarse availability in retail markets though it can be easily found in select stores metros. Notable aspect of this IEM is the accuracy with which it reproduces the audio. Bass is perfect and not overpowering and mids/highs are pretty good. If you can find this set in your place, get it ASAP. NE-7M is NE6 with microphone stuck on the chord.
You can also check the following IEMs. They are all high quality IEMs but it’s very difficult to find them in the market:
- Brainwavz M1, M2 and M3
- MEElectronics ME6
That’s the IEMs that I have found to be truly VFM inside a budget of 5000 rupees. Hope you upgrade yours soon and get indulged in audio nirvana. Do note that you need to burn-in for 50 hours atleast to get good quality out of your new IEMs. You can find more information at www.burninwave.com