I care too much about earbuds I break.
April 27, 2010 8:58 AM   Subscribe

Another earbud question with maddening specificity.

It seems trivial to put so much work into something that will likely die in a year anyway, but I'm hoping you all might have some good suggestions for me. I've read previous threads, and it seems that Shure and Etymotic will offer the closest to what I need. I use these things for running, sitting, and constantly.

I'm looking for comfortable, noise canceling and hardy ear buds:

1) I always seem to break the wires where they join the jack. It has to be held a certain way to get all the channels, or wires start to get exposed, or it just simply snaps. I've tried to alter my behavior, but it seems to be something I just DO. Has anyone found something with a durable jack?

2) Noise reduction. I was looking at Shure's earbuds for this especially. I use the subway a lot, and there's a lot of loud chatty people among the loud white noise, and I'm hoping to find something where I don't have to hear about the latest drama geek's loud retelling of the latest run in with a penis. Oh lord the drama geeks.

3) Comfort. For some reason I feel like a lot of these earbuds are gigantic and hurt my ears. I don't know who they're making these for. Possible audiophilic cats.

Anyone know of anything good? Because I break these all the damn time (see 1), I wouldn't want to spend much more than $100 because I am a poor, but entitled kid. Thanks!
posted by OrangeDrink to Technology (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I just bought my husband the Shure 350s. He has small ear canals and is a big audiophile, and he is in love. (He let me listen to them . . . once . . . so far. Wow.) But, entitled kid, save up because even at best prices I found (amazon.com) you're paying a good deal more than $100. I was happy to get them for less than $300.
posted by bearwife at 9:01 AM on April 27, 2010

All good in-ear headphones will provide a lot of sound isolation simply by the fact that they 'plug into' your ear canals. The Shures won't provide any more than the Etymotics in that regard. None of the in-ear headphones made by both companes have active noise cancellation. This Shure page describes the differences. It looks like there are a few in-ear headphones like these AKGs that have active noise cancellation. Note the box that they need for the batteries an d sound cancellation circuitry.
posted by zsazsa at 9:12 AM on April 27, 2010

CNET recently ran a piece on the best earbuds for small ears that was really helpful for me. I ended up picking up the Thinksound Thunder earbuds that are featured from Amazon for about $30. I never imagined spending that much on some, but they're totally worth it for staying in my ear and not hurting me by being too big or awkward.
posted by scarykarrey at 9:14 AM on April 27, 2010

I've had Etymotic ER-6i for several years. Noise blocking is great, as is durability (so far). Well, let me qualify that: I had one of the drivers go bad out of warranty. Ety "repaired" them (I suspect they just replaced them) for free, when I thought I'd have to pay for a new driver.
posted by supercres at 9:26 AM on April 27, 2010

I always seem to break the wires where they join the jack. It has to be held a certain way to get all the channels, or wires start to get exposed, or it just simply snaps.

Perhaps you could try putting a little heat-shrink tubing over the back of the jack on the next set you get. Wires generally break from repeated flexing in one spot, and heat shrink will stiffen up the exit point from the jack enough to help with that.
posted by flabdablet at 9:30 AM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

a) A lot of in-ear phones are going to be dicey for running, cause of the microphonic problem. Also the degree of sound isolation might make them unsafe

b) Etymotic has a crazy good warranty and replacement program. If you break the wires, they'll charge you a few bucks if its way out of warranty, fix it for free if its warranty, and quite possibly fix it for free or just give you new headphones even if it is way out. Service is super easy to deal with.

c) With good in-ear headphones, you won't be able to hear anything on the subway, besides what's playing in your headphones.

d) For fit, one good thing about Ety is they ship with different-size interchangeable tips, and the foam cylinder tips are very compressible (they are basically like foam earplugs with headphones inside). You can also get custom tips made, but that's pretty spendy.

FWIW, I haven't used any of the shures very much, but I would definitely not wear my Ety ER-4Ps running, mostly because the noise would be annoying unless they were perfectly well adjusted, and you'd end up fiddling with the cords and clips the whole time, but also because you'd probably get hit by a bus.
posted by jeb at 9:52 AM on April 27, 2010

The Shure e4c's are worth more than every penny of the 169.00 Amazon currently has them selling for. They come with a variety of size and types of different ear fittings so you can find what works best for you. The noise blocking is great and the cords are particularly thick, so you should have less problems with durability there than with other brands.

As for keeping durability around the jack, instead of just letting the wire hang loose all the time, extend it smoothly downward and loop the cord around the top of the device in such a way that the part near the jack is pulled taunt but not tight, and not bending too much. Especially when running this will take pressure off of the joint and distribute it across the more durable cord.

But I am serious about how good of an investment they are - I lost my first pair when I stupidly left them on a stupid flight somewhere, and I promptly ponied up for a replacement pair. They are that good.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:55 AM on April 27, 2010

I've got Shure SE110s, and I had e2cs before that, and I've loved both of them.

I'd basically echo everything everyone has said above, but I'd at that whilst I'm sure the more expensive models are worth it, the cheaper ones are by no means "cheap", and are a class above anything else I've ever used before.
posted by chrispy108 at 10:18 AM on April 27, 2010

It's a bit of a tangential suggestion, but I'd recommend getting a cheaper pair of IEMs first, to test them out (you don't say if you've owned IEMs before), and ultimately demote them to running/activity use should you choose to buy a nicer pair. I like my Sennheiser CX300-IIs for this purpose, which you can get for 35 USD or cheaper on occasion.

Point being that you may hate microphonics, or find that you get dizzy, or something. And if you decide to buy a pair of pricey headphones, you probably won't want to sweat in them.
posted by a halcyon day at 10:36 AM on April 27, 2010

I recently bought a pair of Klipsch earbuds and love them. I can't speak to the long-term durability yet, but the sound, fit, etc. is all wonderful. The noise isolation is excellent as well.
posted by sbrollins at 10:40 AM on April 27, 2010

For questions 2 and 3, I use Comply foam tips instead of the tips that came with my earbuds. They're made of memory foam, like good earplugs, but with a hole. Most importantly they're super comfortable (normal earbuds always hurt my ears too), but they are, of course, extremely good for keeping out or reducing ambient noise (great for the subway).

As for the earbuds themselves, I like my Ultimate Ears MetroFi 170 with mic.
posted by odin53 at 11:03 AM on April 27, 2010

Don't have an opinion on the cord issue, b/c that always happens to me as well. Before I gave up and started ordering cheap pairs by the dozen (okay, by the 10) from focalprice, I went through two pairs of $50 skullcandy buds in as many months.

However, on the small canals/noise cancellation question, I can second Odin on the comply foam tips. I have small (or deformed) canals, and the Comply tips are great - they really seal out noise. My office has been under construction for the past year and I've been fine while others were crawling up the walls in irritation from the noise. And they're really comfy to boot!

Actually, upthread there was a good point about running - I walk across campus and take the bus - I'm not sure I would run (except on tracks/treadmill) with Comply tips in. I nearly missed a fire alarm one day with them in, and our alarms are deafening.
posted by clerestory at 11:32 AM on April 27, 2010

I have had a pair of Shure e2c for about three years now and have found them to be very durable. Plus, they sound great, block out a LOT of noise and come with a range of earbud covers so they're pretty comfy.

The only drawback is that I find them maddening to wear while walking or running because of the amplified THUD! THUD! THUD! of my feet hitting the ground.
posted by Miss Otis' Egrets at 2:49 PM on April 27, 2010

Owner of Shure e2c and SE110 earphones and recommend both of them. SE110 are more compact than the e2c, but the e2c have a nice right angle jack that may offer more resistance to wear and tear.

Shure's 2 year warranty is excellent, customer service is superb. I'm on my 3rd pair of e2c and I only paid for the first pair. The cables tend to crack where they loop around the ear, but it usually happens about month 20 and it's within the warranty period. Very resilient considering they get used every day. Shure have never quibbled and that's why I'll keep buying from them. You can find good prices online if you shop around a little.
posted by arcticseal at 3:10 PM on April 27, 2010

I'll get crucified for saying the verboten name here, but for semi-disposable, good enough for the subway, cheap enough not to miss too much, you might give skullcandy fmj's or even smoking buds a listen. For "audiophile quality" they are not up to snuff, but if were talking non-discernig listening to 128 bit encoded mp3s they might do the trick. I used mine for the train, and keep my ec2s at my desk. I don't mind losing a pair of reasonable phones that are cheap and sound "good enough".
posted by chocolate_butch at 6:21 PM on April 27, 2010

My Shure E2C's are finally kaput as of last week. I really couldn't remember how old they are, so I searched through my gmail archives for the receipt. Apparently, I bought 'em for $89 on 1/28/05 and used them almost daily for that entire time. I'd call that _exceptionally_ good bang-for-the-gadget-buck. Mobile electronics that last 5 years aren't real common. Great sound quality for the price, too.
posted by paanta at 6:32 PM on April 27, 2010

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