Look for good but durable earbuds.
October 29, 2012 2:01 AM   Subscribe

These earbuds are basically the best headphones I've ever used. However, their cord is way too thin, and I've broken at least half a dozen pairs of these over the last few years, usually by having the wire tear straight off of the plug. I've never broken any other kind of headphones this consistently. These are my back-up pair, and are tough and sound okay, but I'd really like ones as durable as the Skullcandies and as crisp and rich as the Thinksounds. The 30-50 dollar price range is preferable. Any suggestions?
posted by cthuljew to Shopping (18 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
6 pairs times $30 a pop, that's $180 you've spent on earbuds. Maybe it's time to consider getting something better that's backed with a more comprehensive warranty? Like a pair of Westone 2, for example?
posted by 1adam12 at 2:40 AM on October 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

You can consider earphones with detachable/replaceable cables. Unfortunately they tend to be a lot more expensive. The cheapest I can think of off the top of my mind is the Shure SE215. You may actually save money in the long run if you just replace a broken cable rather than getting new earphones every time you break one.
posted by ianK at 3:44 AM on October 29, 2012

If it's breaking where the wire meets the plug you can try reinforcing it with sugru.
posted by get off of my cloud at 4:08 AM on October 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

Came in to suggest sugru as well.
posted by Specklet at 4:25 AM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Consumer Reports evaluated headphones in a February 2012 article. Within your price range, the best earbuds they found were Senneiser CX 215. If you have a subscription to their online content, you can see all the ratings here. These were rated higher than Skullcandy, but I can't find that they evaluated Thinksound. Sound quality was scored as "Very Good", and sensitivity was scored as "High." They didn't do ratings on durability, but the Sennheiser website has listed as a key feature for these earbuds "Built-tough for heavy use" with a 2-year warranty.

Overall comments included: "It delivers very good overall sound quality. These earphones have an isolating design, so they will both muffle some external noise and limit the amount of sound that escapes from the ear pieces."

Detailed comments included: "The earphones have high sensitivity, so they can provide satisfying volume levels when used with lower-powered portable audio devices."

About sound quality: "We found the CX 215 delivers very good overall sound with a slightly warm character. Prominent bass has good impact, but is tubby and lacking in definition. Midrange is smooth. Treble is slightly recessed, but has good upper treble extension. Overall, these earphones are somewhat open sounding with good dynamics."

On the other hand, cnet has not reviewed the Senneiser CX 215, but their editors' best recommendation in that price range is the Panasonic ErgoFit RP-HJE120-K.
posted by Houstonian at 4:36 AM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Wirecutter has some recommendations at different price points.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:27 AM on October 29, 2012

I'm a big fan of JLabs' J4 model, which are now down at the bottom of your price range (they're a totally different design from the "newer model" Amazon will tell you about). They're heavily reinforced at all the weak spots, and have a thick, flat, kevlar-reinforced cord -- sort of linguine-shaped where most earbuds are angel hair. The flat cord means they don't really tangle if you carry them in your pocket without a case. I'm not an audio person, but they get good sound quality reviews for the price range, and they are loud -- I only get as high as half volume in the noisiest environments.

I see from the Amazon reviews that some people have had problems with the electronics blowing out, even if the external parts are rugged. That happened to my first pair after a year or more of carrying them unprotected in my pocket, which I figured was more than fair for the price. YMMV.
posted by jhc at 6:46 AM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I was looking at the J4s at some point, so good to have a word in for them.
posted by cthuljew at 7:17 AM on October 29, 2012

Here's a comparable headphone with replaceable cables.
posted by dobi at 7:20 AM on October 29, 2012

I highly recommend looking through this exhaustive post.

I can't recommend anything specific in your price range, but I do recommend buying once, and buying well - try something like the Etymotic MC5, or the HifiMan RE 262. Head-fi.org in general is a great resource for this kind of thing.

I also wrap my headphones like this, at least if they don't have a case or anything. I don't know if this has actually helped, but it's certainly stopped the earbuds from catching on things so much.
posted by Magnakai at 7:51 AM on October 29, 2012

Try buying your earbuds from a place with a comprehensive warranty. I bought $30 earbuds from Best Buy, bought a $9 Geek Squad protection plan, and have since had them replaced (for free) twice due to normal wear-and-tear. That's $90 of product and counting for $39.
posted by acidic at 8:15 AM on October 29, 2012

I strongly recommend Senheisser CX 200. They're $50, but can be found cheaper on amazon.

My last pair eventually wore out where the wire meets the plug after lots and lots of abuse (including accidentally stepping on them frequently), but the new pair I bought has a slightly different design which includes reinforcement at the place I always break headphones. They've held up for a year thus far and still look brand new.
posted by ersatzhuman at 8:21 AM on October 29, 2012

I had a couple of pairs of the MC5s. The sound and the noise isolation are great, but they're the opposite of durable. I won't be buying Etymotic gear again.
posted by Kreiger at 8:29 AM on October 29, 2012

Personally I've come to look at earbuds as something that will just need to be replaced every 6 months or so. If they don't last at least 3 months it annoys me, but the longest I've had a pair last is a little over a year. As such I don't pay more than $50 a pair, and usually closer to $20.

Honestly I don't know if I'd want to wear the same pair longer than that anyway, they slowly get gunked up with ear wax and you can never really get 100% of it out by cleaning them.

For that same reason I'd never buy a $100+ pair of earbuds - that and the fact that even though the expensive ones usually come with a warranty you have to factor in doing without them for however long it takes to get them repaired, and whether the company will deem the problem to be "abuse" and therefore not covered (which they almost certainly will after multiple repairs for the same problem).

Newegg recently had the Logitech branded low-end Ultimate Ears on sale for $9.99 and those are surprisingly good for the price. These Panasonics are good for the price too.

My favorites ever are these Klipsch - but I don't think they make those anymore so the price for that model keeps going up.

To make any earbuds last as long as possible, first of all get a clip like this
and wrap the middle of the cord around it a few times, clip to to your shirt leaving some slack for your ears, that way if it snags it's not putting as much pressure on the point where the cord enters the earbuds, which usually seems to be where they break for me.

Get a couple of these RePlug breakaway audio adapters too.
posted by NoAccount at 9:20 AM on October 29, 2012

They're more expensive than you're looking for (and they've since been replaced) but I have a pair of Shure E2C headphones that I've had for probably five years. I haven't abused them, but they've been thrown in backpacks probably hundreds of times, I've worn them running probably a hundred times, I've worn them in the rain a couple dozen times, dropped them on the ground, had them ripped out of my ears (getting the cord caught on bushes) etc. They're still as good as new.
posted by cnc at 11:52 AM on October 29, 2012

Oh, you must read this very recent Wired article about NuForce which I just happened to notice earlier today.
posted by Dansaman at 2:20 PM on October 29, 2012

I've had a pair of Etymotic ER-4P's for about 8 years now. They were in the $200 to $300 range when I bought them. They are the best ear plugs I've ever had. Very durable. Well worth the investment. You occasionally need to replace the filter, and sometimes the flanges fall off and get lost, but the extra filters and flanges are easy to order from their website, and pretty cheap too.
posted by marsha56 at 9:22 PM on October 29, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice, y'all! Now to wait until I actually have enough money to make a reasonable decision....
posted by cthuljew at 5:21 AM on October 31, 2012

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