Skip to content

Everyday Listening Buyer’s Guide – 2017 in Review & What to Look Forward to in 2018

We are now on the cusp of the new year and with it, we farewell the sentiments of the past year and embrace coming change and innovation. But that’s not to diminish the achievements of the past year! 2017 has been a transformative year for Everyday Listening, those working behind the scenes to produce the products featured here and those that support the website. With that, I wish everyone a happy new year! Please enjoy my final article for this year, an extensive buyer’s guide and 2017 in review.

 

Where to spend in 2018

I know there has been a lot of confusion regarding what particular device to upgrade within an audio chain or what to buy when first starting out within the hobby. So before introducing my recommendations for this year (which will hopefuly answer some of those questions), I would like to highlight the most budget effective spending habits that I would like to promote in 2018. The following will be in order from most significant to least.

 

  • Earphone/Headphone/Earbud

When first entering the hobby, most will start by upgrading their in-ear or headphone. This is definitely where the vast majority of your budget should go as these make the largest difference to sound quality by far.

That’s not to say that all are equal or that there are clear upgrade paths. In many instances, price is no indicator of performance. Because, almost every earphone or headphone out there sounds different, highlighting the subjectivity of the hobby; some prefer a bassy sound, some an engaging V-shaped sound emphasizing bass and treble, and others a more balanced sound striving to place equal emphasis on every frequency.

As such, it’s most important to determine the sound signature that you most prefer. For under $100, one can easily buy several in-ears of differing tuning, find the one they prefer the most and find a logical upgrade from there. There are objective aspects of sound that do scale up with price such as end to end extension, resolution and control. Accordingly, I have provided a tonality summary for each recommendation in the guide with futher comments and links to my full review.

It’s also vital to find the form factor that you most prefer whether that be a full-sized over-ear headphone, a more portable on-ear or a pocketable in-ear. If you don’t like the sense of pressure created by earphones, earbuds and open-back headphones are a fine choice though they also don’t block any external noise. This will be further expanded upon within the guide.

 

  • AMP/DAC

The next upgrade is usually the source whether that be an amplifier or full DAC/AMP. While sources can make a very noticeable difference to the listening experience, they will never produce the magnitude of change that the earphone, headphone or earbud is capable of. That said, there are some key things to consider when buying a source device.

If you have an in-ear with multiple drivers, an amplifier with a high output impedance can skew the sound signature. Sensitive in-ears may also pick up hiss and distortion on basic sources such as smartphones or laptops. As a result, even a cheap amplifier like the $30 Fiio A1 can create a considerably more optimal experience.

In addition, it is important to drive the headphone to potential; this is less pertinent with in-ears and earbuds but the effects of a good amplifier can still be very much appreciated. Notably, this comes in the form of dampening, if the headphone isn’t being driven properly, you will likely hear a looser bass response. This can, in turn, diminish the entire sound as bass forms the foundation of almost all instruments and vocals higher up.

Of course, not everyone has the experience to pinpoint a lack of bass control so a general indicator that a headphone may require an amplifier is its impedance; with a higher impedance denoting greater difficulty to drive. Meanwhile, the sensitivity represents the amount of volume the headphone will produce at a certain voltage level; a more sensitive headphone will more easily achieve higher volumes from the same source. Of course, there is far more to the story than this, but these general indicators are apt in the majority of cases.

 

  • Accessories

Usually the final stage of upgrade, accessories usually offer more subtle and less universal changes but, certain items such as ear pads can make transformative changes. Accessories such as ear tips and pads usually invoke the largest changes, not only to comfort but also sound; whether that be via attenuation of certain frequencies or altering the level of seal. These are definitely something to consider, spending $20 on a new set of tips or pads can easily make enough difference to prevent you from spending hundreds on a new set of headphones or earphones.

And, though cables probably come to mind first when considering accessories that affect the sound, they are often cost prohibitive and focus more on that last few % to owners of high-end gear. Of course, just as there are good cables, there are definitely poorly performing cables out there so I would advise spending a little more for a brand name unit of proven quality, ergonomics and longevity. There is more to go wrong with a cheap cable than one would expect; they can be tacky, stiff, microphonic and can oxidise and harden over time.

 

  • Disclaimer

These are my personal picks based upon my subjective listening impressions. I’m sure there are plenty of superior sounding models out there for a similar asking price so I am always an advocate of further research. Links to Amazon and Penon Audio links are affiliate. There is no added cost to the consumer, but I receive a small percentage of sales through these links which contributes to sample and website costs. If you would like to support my website, I would greatly appreciate any use of my affiliate links, thank you!

 

Buyer’s Guide

In-ears 

In-ear earphones are the most common form factor, they insert into the ear and form a suction-like seal through an attached silicone or foam tip. As such, they can block out a lot of external noise but also create some pressure during wear. There are various styles of design with the two most notable being regular cable-down earphones found essentially everywhere and the higher-end monitor/pod style in-ears that route the cable over the ear. By positioning the cable above the ear, they are more stable during activity and don’t produce any cable noise, but they can be more difficult to wear at first. Certain cable-down earphones can be worn inverted to reape similar benefits.

 

Under $100

Final E2000

DSC04931
  • Tonality: V-Shaped & Engaging
  • Highlights: The E2000 from Final Audio offers an engaging yet tastefully balanced sound with a surprising amount of detail on top. Due to their semi-open nature, they don’t isolate especially well but produce a spacious soundstage and an immersive listen. The earphones feature a solid aluminium build and a supple albeit thin cable with small housings and innovative flexible ear tips creating a comfortable fit.
  • Price: $44.90 from Amazon
  • Full Review: Here

 

Shozy Hibiki

DSC05070
  • Tonality: Bright & Revealing
  • Highlights: Shozy’s latest in-ear impresses through its striking authentic carbon fibre construction and stable over-ear fit. It sports a bright yet revealing sound with plenty of speed and punch. The highlight of this earphone is its excellent noise isolation and removable cable made in conjunction with AAW. The cable has a practical remote/mic and can be swapped out by the user in the event of damage.
  • Price: $62.99 from Amazon
  • Full Review: Here

 

$100-200

Rose Mini 2

DSC04525.jpg
  • Tonality: Balanced/Slightly Warm
  • Highlights: The Mini 2 is a dual balanced armature earphone within a minute form factor. It has an incredibly linear, balanced sound that reveals nuances like few others around this price. It also sounds very naturally voiced with great detailing and transience. The Mini 2’s unique design is perfectly comfortable while remaining isolating and stable due to an over-ear fit. Rose include a nice braided MMCX removable cable that is supple and can be replaced in the event of damage.
  • Price: $109 from Penon Audio
  • Full Review: Here

 

Simgot EN700 Pro

DSC05465
  • Tonality: Warm & Smooth
  • Highlights: Simgot took the best of the EN700 Bass and appended almost all of its shortcomings. There is certainly no shortage of well-performing in-ears yet the EN700 Pro stands out through its eye-catching metal build, excellent 8-core cable and warm, detailed sound. The EN700 Pro is an incredibly natural and spacious sounding earphone for Simgot’s asking price with great comfort and design to top it off.
  • Price: $150 from Amazon
  • Full Review: Here

 

Fiio F9 Pro

DSC06463
  • Tonality: Bright & Revealing
  • Highlights: The new F9 Pro features a triple hybrid driver setup comprising of 1 dynamic driver and 2 balanced armatures. It is one of the most revealing and technical earphones around this price, with especially strong clarity, treble extension and resolution. It features a sculpted aluminium design and two removable cables from factory. In addition, the F9 Pro is a very comfortable and reasonably well-isolating earphone.
  • Price: $139.99 from Amazon
  • Full Review: Here

$300-500

Oriveti New Primacy

DSC08466
  • Tonality: Balanced/Smooth
  • Highlights: The New Primacy is an excellent all-rounder featuring a hardy aluminium build, ultra-comfortable over-ear fit and a removable 8-core cable. They deliver an incredibly balanced sound with a hint of extra bass body and treble crispness. Their midrange is smooth and their treble detailed but non-fatiguing. The New Primacy offers a minimal compromise package at an attainable price point.
  • Price: $299 from Amazon
  • Full Review: Here

 

Rose BR5 MKII

DSC06069
  • Tonality: Mid-Forward & Revealing
  • Highlights: The BR5 MKII delivers an exceptionally resolving sound for its asking price with excellent detail retrieval, clarity and speed. It offers a neutral tone, intimate mids and an incredibly defined bass response. The BR5 MKII comes equipped with a removable silver-plated cable and its 3D printed housings are super isolating and stable in the ear. The BR5 MKII is highly customisable in design and user-specific sound tuning can be requested at an additional fee.
  • Price: $305 from Penon Audio
  • Full Review: Here

 

Cardas A8

DSC04590
  • Tonality: Bassy & Laid-Back
  • Highlights: The A8 offers a warm, laid-back sound with incredible bass depth and impact that greatly contrasts to the balanced approach that most in-ears take around this price. The A8 features a super sturdy brass housing mated to Cardas’ signature fabric woven helix cable. It has a standard cable-down fit and a fully-sealed design that is comfortable and well-isolating.
  • Price: $349 from Amazon
  • Full Review: Here

 

$500-$1000

Audiofly AF1120

DSC03384-22.jpg
  • Tonality: Neutral/Slightly Warm
  • Highlights: The AF1120 is Audiofly’s flagship in-ear designed for stage monitoring. Its 6BA setup produces a very balanced, almost neutral sound with excellent texture and a very realistic timbre. The AF1120 is also exceptionally compact, especially given its driver count, producing a low-profile, isolating and perfectly comfortable fit. That said, Buyers will have to consider that its removable cable is keyed and the included unit is quite tangle-prone.
  • Price: $649.90 from Amazon
  • Full Review: Here

 

64Audio U3

cover
  • Tonality: U-shaped/Revealing
  • Highlights: With a triple armature setup and APEX technology, the U3 offers much of the experience delivered by 64Audio’s higher models at a vastly reduced price. Moreover, their sculpted housings produce a very solid, isolating fit that remains stable even during active use. 64Audio’s APEX modules also enable basic sound tuning and remove pressure on the eardrum. The highlight of the U3 is undoubtedly their engaging u-shaped sound, delivering a revealing, spacious and balanced presentation with standout treble precision.
  • Full Review: Here

 

Campfire Audio Lyra II

DSC05306
  • Tonality: Warm & Smooth/Balanced
  • Highlights: The Lyra II offers the same compact, ergonomic liquid metal housings as Campfire’s higher-end models. It is also their most balanced dynamic driver in-ear while retaining a warmer, more organic presentation. Considering how smooth and unfatiguing the Lyra II is, it has excellent resolution and not a hint of dullness or veil. The Lyra II is a nice all-rounder with a super hardy build, excellent ALO cable and great isolation and comfort.
  • Manufacturer’s Page: Here
  • Full Review: Here

 

Hyla CE-5

DSC07267
  • Tonality: V-Shaped & Engaging
  • Highlights: The CE-5 features real innovation, with a ceramic super tweeter and titanium sound tubes producing a super engaging sound that doesn’t skim over the smaller nuances. Its sound isn’t balanced but characterised by extended, visceral bass set to clear, airy highs. Mids, though slightly recessed and warm, never become lost in the mix due their excellent resolution and detail throughout. It’s 3D printed housings are exceptionally well isolating and comfortable over long listening sessions. Get them quick because Hyla are only producing 200 units!
  • Manufacturer’s Page: Here
  • Full Review: Here

 

$1000+

Noble Katana

DSC06808
  • Tonality: Neutral/Slightly Bright
  • Highlights: The Katana represents Noble’s attempt at a reference style sound. It is slightly on the analytical side, emphasizing treble air and detail presence to great effect. Moreover, its 9 custom Knowles drivers produce ultra-high resolution, perfect treble extension and immense clarity. It doesn’t have an absolutely linear or realistic sound, but the Katana reveals the finer details like few others. The Katana is otherwise a striking in-ear with high-precision machined aluminium housings and a supple OFC removable cable.
  • Price: $1850 from Amazon
  • Full Review: Here

 

Headphones

Though less common and less portable, headphones offer a more physical, spacious sound than their smaller brethren. Headphones come in several flavours. On-ears are the most portable, sitting on the outer-ear, but most are uncomfortable during longer listening as they compress the ear. On the contrary, over-ears are larger, fully encompassing the ear and offering greater comfort and isolation for longer listening. Open-back designs also have a place; they offer minimal isolation but produce a larger stage with more natural placement. As such, they excel for live recordings, films and gaming.

 

Meze 99 Neo

DSC01344-1
  • Tonality: Bassy & Laid-Back
  • Design: Over-Ear, Non-folding
  • Highlights: The 99 Neo impresses with its full, mid-bass enhanced low-end that doesn’t excessively colour its clear and linear midrange. Though bass-heavy, the Neo executes its sound with greater control than most. The 99 Neo’s suspension headband and wide, deep memory foam earpads also make this one of the most comfortable, isolating portable headphones on the market. Add on a striking modular design that is easily repaired and the 99 Neo becomes a delightfully versatile headphone.
  • Price: $199 from Amazon
  • Full Review: Here

 

Denon MM-400

DSC07379.JPG
  • Tonality: Warm/Slightly Energetic
  • Design: Over-ear, Folding
  • Highlights: The MM-400 is a warm, smooth and textured headphone with sprinkles of additional lower and upper-treble clarity. It’s one of the most balanced portable headphones I’ve tested, producing a rich yet detailed sound that works equally well for portable and home use. Their wooden earcups are absolutely eye-catching and their soft albeit shallow memory foam pads and well-sized headband produce a very comfortable fit. Moreover, the MM-400 folds for transit and isolates well due to its sealed over-ear design. Don’t let its price fool you, this is one of the best portable headphones out there.
  • Price: $275 from Amazon
  • Full Review: Here

 

Earbuds

Once associated with the free units included with smartphones and iPods, there has been a recent renaissance with high-quality and premium earbuds frequently popping up on the market. They sit loosely in the outer ear and produce no pressure like sealing in-ears. As a result, they don’t isolate but provide higher levels of comfort and situational awareness. Moreover, their open design permits a large soundstage with greater separation. They don’t have the heritage and foundation of more conventional in-ears and headphones, but there are some very well-performing models out there.

 

Under $50

Penon BS1

DSC03585-6
  • Tonality: Warm & Smooth
  • Highlights: With a warm, smooth and slightly darker sound combined with a perfectly comfortable fit, the BS1 can be listened to for hours on end. Its open form factor permits some situational awareness and a grand soundstage presentation. In addition, the earbud possesses solid aluminium housings and a very supple, well-built cable. This is a standout performer within the form factor.
  • Price: $39 from Penon Official
  • Full Review: Here

 

$50-200

Rose Masya

DSC05180
  • Tonality: Bright & Revealing
  • Highlights: The Rose Masya is a one of a kind earbud with a unique albeit large and slightly awkward design. However, using its especially open form factor, the Masya produces an enormous soundstage alongside terrific treble air and high levels of clarity throughout. Moreover, the Masya sounds clear without sounding thin and unnatural, demonstrating a level of technicality beyond the vast majority of other earbuds. Rose also equip the Masya with a nice silver plated removable cable which is a rarity among earbuds.
  • Price: $109 from Penon Audio
  • Full Review: Here

 

Shozy Cygnus

DSC05103.JPG
  • Tonality: L-shaped/Slightly Energetic
  • Highlights: The Cygnus impresses through its balanced L-shaped sound with slightly enhanced midrange clarity and detail presence. It has a warm bass tone and a generally full-bodied sound that is easy on the ears without coming off as dull or overly dark. Utilising Yuin style shells, the Cygnus is compact and perfectly comfortable. The Cygnus also features one of the most supple cables I’ve ever handled though it is prone to oxidising over time, turning a hue of green.
  • Price: $99.99 from Amazon
  • Full Review: Here

 

1More E1008

DSC00749-11-8
  • Tonality: Balanced/Laid-Back
  • Highlights: The 1More’s most notable trait is its more neutral tone that contrasts to the majority of other earbuds that err on the warmer side. The E1008 is also very balanced and produces a huge, multi-dimensional soundstage. That said, it’s higher frequencies are rather smoothed off, sapping a lot of energy from their sound. Still, 1More do a lot to redeem themselves with a stunning aluminium housing and the inclusion of a practical smartphone remote that functions on both IOS and Android devices.
  • Price: $102 from Amazon
  • Full Review: Here

 

Shozy BK

DSC01722-13
  • Tonality: Balanced/Warm & Smooth
  • Highlights: The BK is a tonally excellent earbud that produces an especially natural sound with standout bass texture. It is somewhat source picky, but delivers a progressively sculpted and well- balanced sound when driven to potential. It is also one of the more sensitive earbuds I’ve tested, suiting resolving portable sources without an additional amp. Like the Cygnus, it utilises the Yuin shell that is compact and perfectly comfortable but Shozy implement an 8-core OCC cable that does not oxidise.
  • Price: $165 from Amazon
  • Full Review: Here

 

$200+

Astrotec Lyra Collection

DSC06336
  • Tonality: Balanced
  • Highlights: The Lyra Collection is the most balanced earbud I’ve ever tested, producing a very natural sound and a realistic timbre. It has a tight yet defined bass response, a slightly warm yet nicely layered midrange and very well extended, detailed highs. As a result, the Lyra Collection produces stunning resolution and precision for an earbud. Furthermore, its aluminium housings with micromesh vents are distinct and comfortable with immaculate finish on top. Astrotec’s 8-core silver plated cable, though fixed, is also among the best I’ve handled.
  • Price: $299 from Penon Audio
  • Full Review: Here

 

Wireless

With the advent of jack-less smartphones, Bluetooth headsets have never held such a pertinent role in society. However, it can be hard to balance sound quality with the additional cost of wireless electronics. Furthermore, not all Bluetooth implementations are created equal, with many implementations suffering from intermittency, distortion and even complete cutouts. That said, there are definitely some standouts and a few innovative implementations that can convert wired gear to wireless.

 

Under $100

Advanced Sound Model 3

DSC06519
  • Tonality: V-shaped/Bassy
  • Highlights: Genuinely compelling wireless earphones can be hard to find south of several hundred dollars. That makes the $80 Model 3 quite outstanding; it is an earphone that features a sleek, secure and isolating design combined with an innovative necklace-style wireless implementation. The Model 3 also features a removable cable, enabling it to run from a wired connection as well. Most importantly, its sound is engaging and detailed with a warm, lush low-end mated to a smooth midrange and crisp high-frequency presentation. The Model 3 is incredibly flexible and comprehensive for its modest asking price.
  • Manufacturer’s Page: Here
  • Full Review: Here

 

Fiio BTR1

DSC05416
  • Tonality: U-Shaped
  • Highlights: The BTR1 conveniently converts standard wired headsets to semi-wireless. Though more expensive than the myriad generic models on the net, the Fiio unit is one of the few that does higher quality wired in-ears and headphones justice. With a discrete DAC and high-quality Apt-X support, the BTR1 delivers a clean signal which retains surprising balance and detail. It also has good but not great driving power and minimal background hiss. Unfortunately, the BTR1 has only modest range, but wireless implementations like this are few and far between.
  • Price: $49.99 from Amazon
  • Full Review: Here

 

$100-500

V-Moda Crossfade II Wireless 

DSC05895
  • Tonality: V-Shaped/Bassy
  • Highlights: The Crossfade II Wireless produces heaps of sub-bass slam combined with a clear midrange and treble response. In addition, they sport a super-rigid metal build that gets incredibly compact when folded, and V-Moda can fully customise the faceplates to the buyer’s specified design and material. The Crossafed II Wireless garnishes this with excellent wireless range and high-quality Apt-x support; this combination of super engaging tuning, rock-solid build and an exceedingly practical form factor enable the headphones to excel with daily use and versatility.
  • Price: $329 from Amazon
  • Full Review: Here

 

$500+

Flares Pro

DSC03739-16
  • Tonality: U-Shaped/Bright & Revealing
  • Highlights: Cloaked in brushed titanium and sporting the latest and greatest in wireless innovation, the Flares Pro sounds exceptionally good; not just for a wireless earphone and not just for its price range. The earphones boast a vivid and highly resolving sound with tight yet visceral bass set to revealing and incredibly detailed highs. Furthermore, the Pro has the best wireless implementation on the market with APT-X support and a custom balanced wireless module creating a perfectly clean sound that bests most wired connections. The earphones also implement a removable cable from the y-split down and thoroughly impress with their ergonomics. If price is no object, wireless earphones don’t get better than this!

 

Master & Dynamic MW60

DSC07325
  • Tonality: Warm & Smooth
  • Highlights: M&D flatter the listener with rich yet controlled bass and a lush midrange that remains listenable for hours on end. The MW60 also produces a smooth, laid-back high-end with a little extra energy that aids articulation and overall dynamics. Furthermore, the MW60 is gorgeous; cloaked in nothing but supple leather and satin aluminium. Its ultra-plush pads produce a comfortable experience and high levels of noise isolation and M&D’s wireless implementation is terrific with great range and apt-x support.
  • Price: $549 from Amazon
  • Full Review: Here

 

Sources

Under $100

Fiio Q1 MKII

DSC04884.jpg
  • Tonality: Slightly Warm & Smooth
  • Driving Power: Suits almost all in-ears and portable headphones, slight hiss
  • Highlights: Fiio reimagined the original Q1 in a sleeker form factor with a more neutral sound. It features the X7 II’s very clean but slightly lower-gain AM3A amplifier circuit combined with practical analogue volume controls that digitally compensate for channel imbalance at lower volumes. As such, the Q1 MKII well suits sensitive in-ears and portable headphones best. The Q1 MKII also features two gain levels, an inbuilt bass boost and a balanced output that offers twice the power. This is a very nicely finished and balanced sounding source with a low output impedance for a modest asking price.
  • Price: $99.99 from Amazon
  • Full Review: Here

 

For the Smartphone User

Cozoy Takt Pro

DSC05800
  • Tonality: Warm/Airy
  • Driving Power: Suits almost all in-ears and portable headphones, Zero hiss
  • Highlights: The Takt Pro pursues a musical presentation tonality built atop a warm bass and smooth treble response. It has that typical Saber resolution imbuing nuances with a sense of immediacy but lacks the glare typically associated with these sources. Moreover, it has great driving power for its size and zero background noise. But most outstanding is its design, that is both aesthetically pleasing and practical; with minute dimensions that perfectly pair with a smart device.
  • Price: $299.99 from Amazon
  • Full Review: Here

 

DAP

Hiby R6

DSC07524
  • Tonality: Slightly Dark/Engaging
  • Driving Power: Suits all in-ears and portable headphones, Zero hiss
  • Highlights: The R6 runs a fully-featured version of Android 6.0 and has the fastest software of any DAP under $1K and plenty above. Its hardware is refined with a large 4000mah battery, USB-C and one of the best displays I’ve seen on any DAP. Sporting two ES9028 DACs, the R6 is very resolving with an excellent soundstage despite being tuned for musicality. Its amp is powerful with minimal noise though its higher 10ohm output impedance can make it more temperamental than a lot of sources.
  • Price: $529-$650
  • Full Review: Here

 

Fiio X7 II

DSC04279-6.jpg
  • Tonality: Neutral/Slightly Engaging
  • Driving Power: Flexible Through Amp Modules, Zero to minimal hiss
  • Highlights: While ultra-portable DAPs like the iPod Nano have their place, I’m not a huge fan of midrange and low-end DAPs whose mediocre UI hampers the experience. And with increasing prevalence of lossless streaming services, DAPs running full Android are the only available option. The X7 II excels through its versatility; with a snappy GUI, punchy screen and responsive hardware controls. Moreover, though very neutral, linear and resolving stock, it features modular amp units that can tailor the sound and enhance driving power. The X7 II is easily one of the best Android DAP experiences on the market.
  • Price: $649.99 from Amazon
  • Full Review: Here

 

Shozy Alien+

DSC05002.jpg
  • Tonality: Balanced/Full
  • Driving Power: Almost Anything, Zero hiss
  • Highlights: The Alien+ is an oddity, representing the exact opposite of smart with its archaic UI and limited file support. That said, it wholly redeems itself in listening with a TOTL desktop AKM DAC and immensely powerful amplifier powered by a custom 24V PSU. As such, this experimental DAP creates a very unique sound that is very resolving with standout timbre. It has enough power to drive essentially anything and its 5 gain settings enable it to get quiet enough to drive sensitive in-ears too. The Alien+ can also be used as a USB DAC which mitigates some of its usability issues but battery life remains is a rather middling 6-7 hours.
  • Manufacturer’s Page: Here
  • Full Review: Coming Soon!

 

Accessories

Westone STAR

DSC07405
  • Highlights: The Star tips are my personal favourite small bore tip for Shure/Westone style monitors. Their longer design promotes a deep, isolating fit and the flanges are constructed from a solid silicone that doesn’t cave in on itself. Furthermore, the tips sound nicely transparent only slightly attenuating mid-bass. Resultantly, the STAR tips find great synergy with warmer earphones, delivering a cleaner presentation.
  • Price: $14.99 from Amazon

 

Final Audio E-Tips

DSC07403
  • Highlights: The Final E-tips have become my new medium bore tip of choice, fitting the vast majority of in-ears with T200-T400 sized nozzles. They have a ridged stem that conforms to the bend of the ear canal similar to Spinfits, but without obscuring the sound tube. As a result, they don’t colour the sound nearly as much while providing similar ergonomic benefits. They are a solid tip that is slightly smaller than other same size tips, promoting a deeper, more stable fit.
  • Price: ~$7.50 from e-earphone

 

JVC Spiral Dots

DSC07406
  • Highlights: The Spiral Dots are one of the best large bore tips out there fitting T400+ earphones. They feature a divotted sound tube that aims to reduce turbulence similar to a golf ball. In listening, the Spiral Dots seem to provide a brighter sound but in reality, they aren’t attenuating the higher frequencies like smaller bore tips. As such, these are among the most transparent sounding tip one can buy. They’re also comfortable with soft, grippy silicone suiting a shallow to medium depth fit.
  • Price: $14.80 from Amazon

 

ATH MSR-7 Earpads

DSC08170
  • Highlights: The MSR-7 pads fit a wide range of headphones from Audio-Technica’s lower end M40X and M50X to the Denon MM-400. They are notably more plush and spacious than the stock pads on any of these headphones and deliver considerably improved ergonomics and isolation due to their plush memory foam stuffing. The MSR-7 pads are coated in a soft protein leather that forms a strong seal.
  • Available from Audio-Technica and 3rd Part Resellers 

 

iFi IEMatch

51JNs+BVeZL._SL1008_
  • Highlights: The IEMatch is a reasonably priced and super practical gadget that reduces background noise and lowers output impedance. It perfectly suits noisy integrated audio solutions on laptops, desktops and less proficient smartphones. It also provides a nice alternative to an amplifier but can not increase the maximum volume, rather, it slightly lower it. The IEMatch presents well with an aluminium enclosure and offers two settings, one less potent, the other more so but with a higher output impedance. This is almost a must-have for any sensitive IEM user.
  • Price: $49 from Amazon

Second Hand

Just a few years ago a $400 earphone was considered TOTL and ludicrously expensive. In 2017, that seems almost ridiculous with premium and even some midrange earphones releasing with 4 digit asking prices. Of course, the level of sound quality and innovation has exploded in recent years, but that’s not to discount the ability of past models that can now be found for an absolute steal. As we head into a new year of audio and ever-present inflation, it can be a good idea to look back on the flagships of yesteryear that often present just as much charm as their modern counterparts at a vastly discounted price.

 

Sony EX-1000

DSC07407
  • Tonality: Slightly U-Shaped/Revealing
  • Highlights: The EX-1000 is legendary; infamous at launch and still highly regarded years later, the hallmark of a great IEM. In particular, the EX-1000 is a very balanced earphone that lies on the brighter side with a gradual middle treble peak. However, this is counterbalanced by a slightly enhanced sub and mid-bass responses that imbue its sound with a little warmth and body, creating a gentle U-shaped signature. As a result, the EX-1000 is just a little more engaging and very revealing. Top this off with a very spacious soundstage, excellent end to end extension and high resolution throughout and the EX1K remains a very strong performer despite its falling price. In fact, I would place it far above its similarly priced contemporaries lying within the $200-400 price range. That said, it does have a notable downfall with particularly weak ergonomics. Though very comfortable and mostly stable in the ear, the EX1K has well below average noise isolation and protrudes notably from the ear, producing high levels of wind noise. As such, the EX-1000 is not practical at all during portable use which does hurt its overall value.
  • Second-hand Price: If you’re looking for a highly resolving earphone for home use, second-hand units in good condition can commonly be found for around $200 USD with prices as low as $150 in Japan.
  • New Price: $410 from Amazon

 

JVC FX-700

75c02a5b6349b42e
  • Tonality: Bassy/V-Shaped
  • Highlights: The FX-700 was once among the leading dynamic driver in-ears on the market, offering a more aggressive, V-shaped alternative to earphones like the EX-1000. It also features a gorgeous wood/steel design with a traditional cable-down fit that avoids microphonic noise. Despite it’s slightly larger dimensions, it produces a comfortable fit though its vented nature does produce just average levels of isolation. The FX-700 is a highly engaging earphone that maintains fairly realistic instrument timbre. Down low, it produces almost bass-head levels of emphasis but with excellent extension, physical rumble and great slam all while avoiding excessive bloat. Its midrange does sit quite behind in the mix but it isn’t overly veiled and manages to resolve a fair amount of detail. The FX-700’s high-end is aggressively detailed but bodied and natural overall. Resultantly, it creates a huge soundstage presentation. At its current price, the FX-700 absolutely decimates modern budget in-ears though certain models like the Rose Mini-2 do offer more balance and greater noise isolation. Still, its combination of unique aesthetics, a highly engaging sound and approachable ergonomics make it just as universally appealing as its now very modest price.
  • Price: Though not easy to come by in the Western market, second-hand units can be found for just under $100, and they are fairly common in Japan if you’re comfortable using a forwarding service. Moreover, its more common progenitors such as the FX-750 and FW-03 can be had for just a little more while offering features such as a removable MMCX cable.

 

Sennheiser ie800

DSC04711.JPG
  • Tonality: Lightly V-Shaped/Bright & Revealing
  • Highlights: Some may question the inclusion of the ie800 on this list, but at current second-hand prices, it offers quite a bargain. With a lightly V-shaped signature, due to notable sub-bass and middle-treble peaks, the ie800 is definitely on the more engaging side of the spectrum. That said, it remains reasonably balanced overall as its high levels of midrange clarity tend to draw more attention. That said, the ie800 has a relatively clean mid-bass response that produces more neutrally bodied mids. It isn’t really realistic in timbre but is incredibly revealing and quite transparent through its midrange. Treble is clearly enhanced; highs are very crisp but also slightly thin and brittle. That said, extension is excellent and resolution remains among the highest I’ve heard. Moreover, the ie800 has one of the most immersive soundstages out there with a very well-rounded presentation and agile transience. Its design is exceptionally comfortable but isolation is below average and they are especially unstable in the ear due to their shallow fit. This issue is only compounded upon by Sennheiser’s choice of proprietary ear tips and a semi-removable cable with heavy y-split connector that tends to dislodge the earphones during movement. As such, the ie800 is somewhat questionable for portable use but some have experienced no such issues and others have had luck modifying their sets to accept third-party tips.
  • Second-hand Price: Once hideously expensive, the $1000 former Sennheiser flagship can now be had for as little as $350 USD. Unfortunately, the market is flooded with convincing fakes so it’s important to buy them from a reputable seller such as Fujiya-avic or E-earphone. It is imperative to get proof of purchase should you decide to go through a private seller and be sure to inspect them in person to verify their authenticity.
  • New Price: $499.99 from Amazon

 

Fiio X7

DSC03782-10
  • Tonality: Balanced/Smooth
  • Highlights: The original X7 was Fiio’s first Android-based DAPs, one of the first of its kind. As expected, it isn’t quite as polished as the MK II that features more tactile controls, a better screen and double the RAM, but it does carry a similarly resolving sound and is just as feature rich. It’s a little less dynamic and a little smoother in the higher-frequencies than the X7 II, but the Saber ESS9018S based X7 (which offers superior quality to the 9018Q2M) remains a very nice sounding source to the present day. Moreover, by assuming a full Android OS, it has the same wide app support and capability as any smart device, extending to streaming services such as Spotify and Tidal. It also features swappable amp modules compatible with the X7 II which enables it to drive a very wide range of gear, just at an additional cost. And, though the stock AM1 module does not possess an additional balanced output like the MK II, the X7 is perfect for IEMs and some headphones with zero background hiss and good control. To my ear, the original X7 also manages to best the newer X5 III in addition to other modern midrange DAPs such as the Hidizs AP200. It’s just a little higher end and a little more discerning than these devices; though, through age and demand, the original X7 is now massively discounted and can often be found for the same and even well under these model’s retail price.
  • New Price: At $349.99 new from Amazon, the original Fiio X7 is a steal. Not only does it offer superior sonic performance to its midrange contemporaries, the X7 is just as feature packed if not more so. Moreover, it also remains compatible with future Fiio amp modules and accessories. Skip mid-fi, flagship devices just a little older are still built to a higher standard of performance.

 

Looking Forward To 2018

A short compilation of new brands and models to look forward to this year.

 

Hyla 

DSC07221
  • Highlights: Oriolus have become a unicorn brand from Japan that made an impressive splash in the international market. Compounding upon the success of Oriolus, Hyla operates under the same intelligence but comes off as more experimental. Experimenting with ceramic ultrasonic tweeters, sterling silver chambers and titanium and 3D printed components, Hyla two very enticing models, the $840 CE-5 and $2700 Nerva X.

 

Dunu Falcon-C

Untitled-1
  • Highlights: The new Falcon C has been teased for quite a while, appearing at various other shows throughout 2017. It’s quite an important model for Dunu, representing their flagship dynamic driver in-ear. The first thing I noted was the hugely improved ergonomics over past Dunu in-ears, especially the DK-3001. The Falcon-C has a smooth, curved housing that slots nicely into the ear, they also isolate better than previous models. And most importantly, they produced a pleasing sound to my ear; one that was obviously sculpted towards the engaging side, but also a sound that provided technical ability beyond what it’s $219 USD would suggest.

 

 

Empire Ears Phantom

DSC07171
  • Highlights: The Phantom was my favourite earphone from Portafes 2017 and probably the most impressive earphone I’ve ever heard in terms of timbre. The design is identical to the Empire Ear’s Legend making the Phantom incredibly comfortable. Its sound was just terrific, incredibly balanced and especially linear, I hope more get a chance to give the Phantom a listen in future.

 

 

 

64Audio Tia Trio

Untitled-2.jpg
  • Highlights: Many are familiar with 64Audio but they haven’t had a notable release in a while. The Tia Trio is one of two new models, it employs a triple hybrid driver setup with one of 64Audio’s renowned TIA drivers handling high-frequencies. 64Audio have also focussed on the design of the chambers and venting to produce a very intriguing sound. Of note, the Trio has outstanding quality throughout and an immensely spacious stage.

 

Jomo Haka 

Image result for jomo Haka
  • Highlights: Jomo’s carbon fibre in-ears are some of the most visually striking on the market, a work of art. However, their new focus is the Haka; a midrange earphone featuring a single balanced armature custom built for Jomo. The Haka sports 3D printed housings with a brass horn/nozzle that also serves to heighten visual impact. This is another tremendous earphone to look at and it’s sound is surprisingly comprehensive considering it’s single driver setup.

 

HUM Dolores

DSC07181
  • Highlights: HUM have one of the most unique perspectives on in-ear acoustic design, focussing on quality over quantity with their flagship dual driver in-ear, the Dolores. They reason that in-ears and speakers should be treated similarly with reference monitors achieving great coherence and superior imaging through a simpler dual driver setup; and also that more drivers are not always better where accuracy is concerned. HUM also focus on the cross-over circuitry in an attempt to balance performance with miniaturisation. They managed to cram a full-sized capacitor into each housing that is said to mimic the function of a speaker crossover circuit over a conventional multi-driver in-ear. This is one to watch!

 

Thanking Every Reader For A Wonderful 2017! Best Wishes For The Coming Year!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

AccessibleAudio.Co

Earphone reviews for everyone

Twister6 Reviews

Twister6 Audio Gear Reviews

Plan With Me

Organisation - Girly Obsessions - Lifestyle

The Contraptionist

Something for everyone

%d bloggers like this: