What is the best in-ear headphone under $100 for use on long airplane flight?
October 15, 2009 7:25 PM   Subscribe

I am in urgent need of in-ear earphones for use on a number of long flights I have to take in the coming months. I've narrowed down my choices to the Shure e2c or the Sony MDRNC22. The Shure is noise isolating, the Sony is noise cancelling. Which is better? The shure's seem to go deeper into the ear. Will that get uncomfortable?
posted by Pastabagel to Technology (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Shure. It doesn't need batteries and will sound better. I have those and they're comfortable if you choose the right tips.
posted by kindall at 7:35 PM on October 15, 2009

I can't stand IEMs myself, because I don't like the feeling of stuff in my ears (so I wear big over-the-ear headphones, which take up more space in a bag and really benefit from an auxiliary amplifier), but that seems to be a personal-preference thing. The Sonys are battery-dependent, which might be a drawback. Judging by the manufacturers' stats, the Shures block more noise. Audiophile types would definitely prefer the Shures. This probably sounds like I'm leaning toward the Shures, but if, like me, you don't like the way they feel, that might be a dealbreaker.
posted by box at 7:37 PM on October 15, 2009

Response by poster: I had never heard of the Etymotic's. Are those better than or as good as the Shure's?

Follow-up question: Do the etymotics and the shure still isolate noise if I leave the earphones in my ears but unplugged?
posted by Pastabagel at 7:49 PM on October 15, 2009

Yes, they do.

It's mostly a personal-choice thing, I think, between Etymotic and Shure. Ultimate Ears is another manufacturer worth considering, and you could probably throw Westone in there as well. Like Shure and Etymotic, both of those offer custom fits (this generally involves an audiologist taking molds, and is significantly more expensive).
posted by box at 8:01 PM on October 15, 2009

I have the Etymotics, and they are an absolute godsend for long flights. The Shures are probably similar.

As to comfort, the Etymotics came with two types of tips - rubber and foam - and I regularly wear the foamies 4-5 hours at a time without any discomfort. They are comfortable enough to forget about. YMMV.
posted by violinflu at 8:07 PM on October 15, 2009

I have the Shures just for flights. If you don't mind things deep in your ear they are awesome. It can be very difficult to hear people talking, even with sound off, and they are not easy to get in and out so conversations can be awkward.
posted by procrastination at 8:08 PM on October 15, 2009

I found that noise-canceling buds amplified airsickness, and now stick with isolating buds. YMM hopefully V, but it's worth checking out by borrowing a pair if that's possible.
posted by dws at 8:14 PM on October 15, 2009

I have the Shures. They sound really good and are a godsend on a flight and anywhere else I don't want to hear people yapping and tons of white noise all around me.
posted by nosila at 8:14 PM on October 15, 2009

e2cs are good. I had a pair and they were great. in-ears are the way to go.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 8:44 PM on October 15, 2009

I bought in ear earphones at winners for 7.99, they really rock, I can't hear anything else than awesomeness.
posted by PowerCat at 9:24 PM on October 15, 2009

I LOVE my sony's. I have the exact pair you're looking at and I swear by them. they are great at noise cancelling, which is excellent for drowning out aircraft engine noise. And I fing the over the ear looping of the cord on the shures is clumsy, goofy and uncomfortable.
posted by dawdle at 9:29 PM on October 15, 2009

I also think the monitor button on the sony's is a great feature. It allows you to turn off input from the source to the earbuds without having to press stop or pause on whatever device you're using and have a conversation or listen to external sounds without removing the buds.
posted by dawdle at 9:33 PM on October 15, 2009

And the sony only takes 1 AAA battery and lasts forever.
posted by dawdle at 9:34 PM on October 15, 2009

I bought my wife the Shures a couple years ago.

They're absolutely awesome.
posted by Netzapper at 9:48 PM on October 15, 2009

I like the Sony's. good battery life and comfortable. The only thing I don't like is that the battery case often comes unclipped and then swings around, pulling your ear pieces out.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 11:18 PM on October 15, 2009

I have a pair of Shures and highly recommend them. I like the in-ear style and I wear the foam plugs upwards of 8 hours a day sometimes at work quite comfortably. Only downside is realizing how much earwax I generate over a day after taking them out. The sound isolation + quality is top notch, and they are quite durably constructed. Initially they didn't fit into the recessed iPhone jack, but 5 minutes with an exacto knife shaving off the rubber housing until it fit fixed that.

I'm sure the other ones are fine also, I can only vet what I've tried.
posted by spatula at 12:22 AM on October 16, 2009

Just chiming in to say that the battery isn't a real drawback. I have on-ear (as opposed to in-ear) noise canceling headphones, and the battery life is shockingly long. Way way longer than you would ever expect. One time, I accidentally left it on over a three day weekend, and found out when I realized it was still on when I was flying back. And this was after enough use that I had already expected them to die soon. Personally, I'd take noise canceling as an extra feature. Presumably, even when not using it, the in-ear nature of it will still keep it "noise isolating" like the shures (though if they don't go in as far, then probably not as isolating).
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 12:40 AM on October 16, 2009

Best answer: I have Shure SE115s that I use under my motorcycle helmet. Even at highway speeds, I can turn the volume down low and still hear the full range of sound. Spoken word, classical, bass-heavy, it all sounds great.

They can sometimes be a little uncomfortable after about an hour, but that's mostly from the helmet pressing on my ears.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:39 AM on October 16, 2009

I have tried at least 6 or 7 models of IEMs and I'd strongly recommend the Etymotic HF5s if you can afford them. They are barely out of your price range ($115 on amazon), but they have the most accurate sound reproduction I've ever heard (on par with the more expensive ER4Ps). The noise isolation is superior as well, because the foam tips are designed like earplugs (you have to compress them with your fingers and let them expand inside your ears to maximize isolation).

I have also owned a pair of E2Cs. In my opinion, they're inferior to the HF5s in both isolation and sound quality, but they are more comfortable and I prefer their design (you can't lay down on your side while wearing the HF5s, for example, because the tips stick out too far).
posted by helios at 1:46 AM on October 16, 2009

I have Shure 210s, and they are indeed very good. However, changes in pressure make them feel funny, which you may find uncomfortable on a flight. The foam tips take getting used to, since you have to knead them into a point and then let them expand into your ear, but the noise isolation is excellent. It does take a few minutes to put them in your ear and uses both hands so you can't slip them on and off. I have worn them for many hours at a time, but they are strangely tiring and it's a relief to take them out again. I'm not sure about the e2c, but the 210 comes with a strangely short lead with an extender enclosed. It's bulky and silly.

Do see which ones may stick out most. My partner has Klipsch earphones which disappear completely and are easy to lean against a pillow. My Shures are not as small, but would be fine for larger ears.
posted by tavegyl at 5:41 AM on October 16, 2009

Contrary to appearances, I love my Shures. This is the list of downsides. The upsides: excellent quality, excellent noise isolation, and much more comfortable than my earlier post made it sound. I will definitely get noise isolating earphones when they break.
posted by tavegyl at 5:44 AM on October 16, 2009

the E2C's don't have the stupid extender lead system so don't worry. I had E2c's for ages and loved them and then upgraded to Shure scl3's which I love even more. Never had the pressure problem that tavegyl mentions on flights but YEMV. (ears.)

Another reason to buy the Shures is that their customer service is amazing.

tavegyl I agree that the short lead and extender system on the 210's is a big design fault. Lead me to totally lose a set of headphones without realizing. Shure replaced them with the scl3's even though I didn't have anything to send back to them for repair. That's service.
posted by merocet at 6:14 AM on October 16, 2009

Best answer: Gizmodo did this great mass review of earphones

I also second the Shure SE115's instead (the E2C's are ancient in tech years)
posted by chalbe at 7:19 AM on October 16, 2009

Shure E2Cs are awesome, on my second pair. As merocet mentioned, and I've written before, Shure customer service is awesome.
posted by arcticseal at 7:34 AM on October 16, 2009

actually just bought etymotic hf2's for drumming, and they're great. super comfortable, very lightweight, fantastic isolation and sound reproduction, plus they work as a headset with a smart phone!
posted by Chris4d at 8:25 AM on October 16, 2009

I'm currently rocking the next-gen of the Shure e4c (its technically the ec4L or something like that - same thing as the previous e4c's I had). When I was (years back) evaluating the e4c against the e2c, the sound quality was noticeably better, and definitely worth the marginal price increase. They come with a wide spattering of earbud options - two different kinds of foam ones, 3 different size rubber plug ones, and some other one I'm forgetting at the moment. Suffice to say you'll be hard pressed to not find one that's fairly comfortable for you.

Passive noise canceling (IEM / isolating) gives you a better, truer sound from your buds, and in my opinion cancels out more ambient noise at the end of the day. No batteries or technological hardware to worry about shorting out, just really high quality audio equipment. Its very hard to hear anything not coming through your buds, and you go super-easy on your ears - usually the lowest volume settings on my devices is more than enough, but the headphones come with an optional additional volume manager you can plug in to go even lower if need be. Go with the Shure.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:42 AM on October 17, 2009

I have a pair of Shure E2Cs. they sound great, but I can't reccomend them to anyone. They can start to hurt to wear after a while (esp on long flights with pressure changes) and I've had to replace them every year for the last 4 because the wiring keeps wearing out and the buds start to stop working (I just sent them back this week again!)

However, they've always replaced them free of charge, so there is that.
posted by Large Marge at 11:12 AM on October 17, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks to all who answered. I bought the Shure SE115. The plane noise was almost completely eliminated, and the sound quality is great. Best of all, I left them in the entire flight (11 hours), sometimes just as earplugs without an audio source, and they did not hurt my ears or bother me at all even after leaving them in that long.

As an aside, they are also much much quieter than the Bose Comfort Noise 3's ( a friend had those and I tried them on).

Thanks, everyone!
posted by Pastabagel at 6:30 AM on October 23, 2009

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