In-Ear Headphones Offer Huge Sound in Small Size + Top Isolation!
In-ear headphones (also called in-ear monitors, IEMs, earphones, ear canal headphones) are miniaturized headphones that fit into and 'seal' the ear canal, much like standard earplugs. Many in-ears sound significantly better than traditional headphones or earbuds at the same price and work with any iPod, iPhone, iPad or mp3 player (smartphone owners: please check our mic'd in-ear selections if wanting to take calls too!). In-ear headphones are also commonly used by professionals to monitor sound mixes; this prevents feedback from stage monitors and isolates the artists or producers from audience noise.
In-ear headphones help to ensure safe listening levels since they block ambient sounds so thoroughly you won't have to turn the music up loud just to overcome noisy environments. For the most isolation, we recommend Shure and Etymotic models, these brands have a slightly deeper fit and come with a triple flange tip that offers up to 35-40dB of isolation. Most in-ears come with a variety of different sizes / types of eartips; it's important to experiment to find the tip that works best for you. To get solid bass from any in-ear headphone it is CRITICAL that you have a securely tight eartip seal within your ear canal. Nearly all in-ear headphones are efficient enough to work well directly out of an iPod or portable player without necessitating a headphone amp.
Visit our Exercise Headphones buying guide for specific in-ear models that are geared specifically toward workouts, running, and gym use.
Best Low-Cost In-Ear Headphones
When it comes ot the best in-ear headphones under $100, the Sennheiser CX 300 II is at the top of our list. Bargain-priced Skullcandy Titans lend quite satisfying sound with some friendly low-end emphasis, but also feature an iPhone compatibility and durable metal housing backed by Skullcandy's generous lifetime guaranty. Both the Etymotic MC5 in-ears and MC3 headset version, have a very clean-sounding tone with ergonomics that fit deep into the ear like real earplugs to provide the best isolation of the models mentioned thus far.
Best High-End In-Ear Headphones
Etymotic Research: Audiology innovators Etymotic Research has always offered an outstanding line of in-ear headphones and remain strong in the category with the well-priced HF5; a 'neutral', precise and highly articulate headphone. In-ear audiophiles will want to step up into the Etymotic ER-4 model offering a truly stellar sound that is dead-accurate with an extremely controlled bass response; the Etymotic ER-4S frequently serves as a reference tool for audio pros.
Shure: Shure has become a category leader with the detachable cables found on all their recent 'SE' models. The "dual-driver" [tweeter/woofer] SE425 and the masterful 3-driver SE535 is made for use directly with a portable device. Both feature a warm, luscious timbral signature.
Westone: The Westone 4R's are perhaps a slight step up in overall accuracy than the Shures, with extremely well balanced response in lows, mids, and highs, for true hi-fi enthusiasts these are likefly an excellent choice.
Sennheiser: If you are looking for the ultimate sound and abundance of creature comforts in a universal fit earphone, the Sennheiser IE800's are probably a great choice for you. These are the best sounding universal fit earphones we've heard, with the added ease and convenience of a univeral fit earphone and fully complimented by Sennheiser's stunning build quality and gorgeous ergonomics.
Finally, Florida's awesome JH Audio offers an outstanding range of 100% customized 'audiologist-molded' in-ear headphones for listeners who are uber-serious about obtaining the best possible sound quality in a comfortable, deeply isolating -- and fully personalized! -- in-ear headphone.
There are many more excellent in-ear choices available at HeadRoom in many price ranges and performance levels. We've listed more top picks below, but here's our entire HUGE listing of in-ear headphones!