Are there comfortable earbuds?
May 24, 2013 8:00 PM   Subscribe

I have always used over-the-head headphones, but they're a bit cumbersome and not very practical for riding the bus, taking a walk, keeping in my purse, etc. I really want a pair of earbuds (canalphones?) but I need comfortable ones. Advice?

I hatehatehate Apple earbuds. I can't even wear them for a minute, they are so uncomfortable. I tried a pair of SkullCandys a while ago that had multiple tips but those were also uncomfortable. I don't know if my ears are small or it's because I am generally "sensitive" (low pain threshold, sensitive skin, etc).

I'm willing to shell out up to $100 or so. Can you recommend some comfortable earbuds/canalphones, or at least tell me what features to look for.
posted by radioamy to Technology (27 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I am a huge, huge fan of these Monoprice in-ear headphones, as recommended by The Wirecutter. Comfortable, great sound, sturdy, and ludicrously cheap considering their quality.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 8:04 PM on May 24, 2013

Best answer: i am a huge fan of urban ears' medis. they have a clip so that they sit in the outer part of your ear. i can wear these for hours and they feel fine. i looked to find similar styles and couldn't find anything. i will cry if they stop making them.
posted by kendrak at 8:08 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Westone earphones are the most comfortable I have ever encountered, and the Westone W1 is about $100.

The cables go over the top of your ear and can be gathered at the back of your neck.
posted by Xany at 8:10 PM on May 24, 2013

I take the cheap earbuds, like what you buy to use in a cell phone, and completely remove the rubberized bit that is supposed to fit snugly into your ear.

With that gone, they just fit very, very loosely in your ear, they don't press on anything, they don't have that boom-ey, too full/loud sound that earbuds can have when they seal tightly in your ear, and generally I can stand to wear them for hours a day whereas I can't stand tight-sealing earbuds for even 2 minutes.

Worth a try--you can just take the rubber bit off any earbuds you might have around the house or buy a $10 pair to try it out on.

Bonus: You'll never lose that fiddly rubber bit again.
posted by flug at 8:11 PM on May 24, 2013

Well, they're not in-ear, and they're less discreet than earbuds, but Koss PortaPros are perennial best-under-$100 picks. And I find them really comfortable, and they fold very small. It just depends what your desired balance between sound quality and not looking like a geek is.
posted by supercres at 8:23 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you find that earbuds don't work for you, these Philips earclip headphones are my recommendation. I've bought...four pairs of them now, and not because they wore out or anything—far from it!—but rather because I wanted a pair at work, a pair at home, a pair for my husband (because he kept borrowing mine on a daily basis), then a pair to replace the pair my husband lost... They're great stuff, and so comfortable—at a great price. Oh, and they work great on the treadmill or out running around, too.
posted by limeonaire at 8:23 PM on May 24, 2013

I just got a pair of the cheapo Monoprice earbuds: excellent sound, but the tips are not to everyone's taste. Combining them with aftermarket tips may work for you.

Comply make aftermarket foam tips. MEElectronics has a selection of replacement tips (rubber and silicone) that work with the Monoprice a variety of replaceable-tip earphones. You'll find a few (long) forum threads discussing mods and tip options.
posted by holgate at 8:39 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been using these Sony in-ear headphones for a long time. They fit comfortably in my ear and the cushion comes in different sizes. I honestly don't notice the difference between these and ones that claim to have higher quality sound.
posted by MeaninglessMisfortune at 8:58 PM on May 24, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the info so far. FWIW I am less concerned about sound than comfort.

Nothing could sound worse than the $10 Sonys I get at the drugstore...
posted by radioamy at 8:58 PM on May 24, 2013

I find Apple's regular earbuds really uncomfortable as well, but the new EarPods that came with the iPhone 5 are really comfortable. I barely notice they're there. They sound decent as well (much better than the old earbuds).
posted by Emanuel at 9:18 PM on May 24, 2013

I have the MEElectronics M9-SL Hi-Fi Sound-Isolating In-Ear Headphones and am pretty happy with them. My husband also has a pair (in black, so we can tell them apart) and likes them too. I need to replace my current pair, due to having been a bit too vigorous when coiling them up to stuff them in my pocket and cracking the cord where it meets the mic/controller, but luckily they're less than $20.

They come with 5 sets of different eartips — based on what you say about your ears, I think the gray "balanced sound" ones as shown in this picture might work well for you. I have smallish ear canals (can't use standard drugstore foam earplugs because they're too painful and have to use the "smaller and pink for women!" earplugs) and I find the gray ones a little too small, soft, and flexible for my taste. (The black ones of the same shape are a little firmer, and are the ones I find I prefer.)
posted by Lexica at 9:28 PM on May 24, 2013

Having gone through fancy and not-so fancy earbuds, the most comfort I was able to achieve was found using foamies. Squish 'em up, pop em in your earhole and let it expand for a few seconds. Comfort and great sound.

Start by looking at the Comply foam tips. Read the reviews, and see what earbuds people are using them with to get a sense of which earbuds work well with them, as well as price. Foamies are THE way to go. Only thing to remember is that they really, REALLY block out a lot of noise (more so than those ram-into-the-canal multi-staged silicone tips).
posted by herrdoktor at 9:38 PM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'll second the MEElectronics earbuds. They're very comfortable and they come with a set of very small tips. As a bonus, the cord is what I always break first on headphones (usually within six months) and I've had my current pair of MEEs for over two years now. The cord is remarkably sturdy.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:50 PM on May 24, 2013

Just to add: if you do get the Monoprice $7 buds, the MEElectronics triple flange tips don't work so well, unless you mess around with them or have really deep ear canals. I'm using double flange right now and they fit well for me; the combo set is decent value to go with some foam tips.
posted by holgate at 10:10 PM on May 24, 2013

Have you considered making your own earbud tips? I have the same problem, and while I currently have a pair of no-brand, $2 on Amazon earbuds that work great, they're no longer sold--when these die, I'm going to try DIY.

Lifehacker has a guide to making earbuds out of earplugs, and Sugru has a guide to using Sugru to make earbuds. It seems like either of these would be more comfortable than the earbuds you can purchase, and like you could always shave a bit off the sides to make them a looser (and less painful) fit.
posted by MeghanC at 10:49 PM on May 24, 2013

Chiming in to agree with Emanuel - I LOVE the new EarPods that came with my iPhone 5. Found the old ones unbearable and sadly trudged through Skullcandy, Sony and Phillips without ever finding a pair I truly loved - but these new Apple ones are great. Do give them a try, especially if your phone doubles as your primary music-listening device (Spotify, ahem!). Then you'll get a mic as well as comfy earbuds.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 10:50 PM on May 24, 2013

I've adored my JVC Marshmallow earbuds for years now. They are cheap - between $10 and $20 - you can find them everywhere (my last pair I bought when I'd forgotten mine and only remembered before a 6 hour flight - boom, there they were, in the airport giftshop next to my gate!), they're durable (I have yet to have a pair stop working), the sound quality is very good, and, most importantly for you, they're uber-comfortable. The buds are made with memory foam, so you just pinch them before you put them into your ear and then the foam expands to fit your ear canal. I actually sleep with these in frequently and find that unless I press on them in a strange way, they're perfectly comfortable. Oh, and they come in a bunch of colors, as well as the familiar black and white.

Another bonus is they come with three sizes of earbud, so you can find what works best for you. Apparently my right ear canal is a little larger than my left, and blissfully JVC doesn't make me pay per bud for this tiny weirdness.

And I'm with you on the Apple earbuds - whose idea of plastic torture were those things?!
posted by AthenaPolias at 2:00 AM on May 25, 2013

The sound out of Sennheiser CX300s is flat-out gorgeous. They take a couple of days of wear before they're comfortable, but they work superbly for me.
posted by fearnothing at 2:13 AM on May 25, 2013

Oh, and they come with 3 sizes of tip.
posted by fearnothing at 2:13 AM on May 25, 2013

A few years ago, I got a pair of Bose in ear headphones, similar to this.

I normally detest the buds for many of the same reasons you give and I really like these. They are super comfortable and sound pretty good. I think they came with 3 sizes of the tips.
posted by dogwalker at 3:21 AM on May 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really like (*site starts playing some kind of sound after a few seconds)Coloud earbuds. They also come with different sizes of tips. Most ear buds give me a headache after wearing them for more than 20 minutes or so but these don't.
posted by fromageball at 5:11 AM on May 25, 2013

I have a similar problem, and these are the in-ear headphones that I can use for hours and hours without any pain: JVC HA-FX22.
posted by Nerro at 6:41 AM on May 25, 2013

I have the same Bose earphones as dogwalker. I am wearing them right now. I have always hated, hated, hated earphones, but these are wonderfully comfortable. Also, I never thought I'd care much about sound quality, but these have completely spoiled me in that regard.
posted by Edna Million at 9:56 AM on May 25, 2013

I was going to chip in and say the JVC FX-35s, which look somewhat similar to the 22s Nerro linked to.

However, JVCs marshmallow earbuds are atrocious, imho.

You might also want to reconsider Apple's offerings, I got their earpods with one of their products and I was shocked to discover that I didn't have to buy another pair of FX-35s because they're the first Apple earbuds that don't make my ear want to bleed.
posted by Yowser at 10:32 AM on May 25, 2013

I feel weird recommending Bose, and I wouldn't pay retail for them... But I got a pair of those Bose earbuds mentioned above for free as part of a job, and they are the most comfortable headphones I've ever had.

They sit a bit loosely in the ear with their comma-shaped ear bud bits that grab the bigger area around your ear canal rather than the actual canal.

I came in here to recommend shure, but if you really care about comfort then I'd have to go with those. They don't sound super amazing for how much they cost not on sale, but nothing I've used or even tried for a few minutes is as comfortable. They're "sit down at desk after having paused phone music, and forget you're wearing them" comfortable.

The apple earpods aren't very comfortable honestly. They are for some people, but they're very hard plastic that won't deform to your ear at all and can have trouble staying in well for some people, or just hurt. They also fall apart. Mine sat in a drawer after trying them out a few times, and ended up in the hands of my(extremely careful with her electronics) mom, whose original pair had self destructed in a couple months.

Shure, ultimate ears, monoprice, and similar mid range+ brands and their models recommended in here are excellent headphones, but not necessarily excellently comfortable. The cheesy Bose ones with their stripey cord somehow beat out even my nice sennheisers in comfort, while still sounding presentable. No blown out exaggerated low rider bass, serviceable high end, not exaggerated mid range, a teensy bit harsh but also surprisingly fluid sounding on a lot of stuff with prominent live bass guitar or female vocals. I could go on with this audio gear review stuff, but you get the idea. They sound about like $60-80 headphones should, yea the monoprice ones probably sound about the same... But you're paying the extra money for how damn comfortable they are. They probably took some cheap-ish earbuds and put their fancy gel tips and striped cable on them, but they do succeed at being comfortable.
posted by emptythought at 2:06 PM on May 25, 2013

I've also had similar problems... high sensitivity to things in my ears, small ears, hatred of the Apple earphones. The most comfortable pair I've used are actually these super cheap JBuds. I bought a pair awhile ago thinking the cost was so low that I could justify throwing them away if they were terrible, but I ended up loving them. They come with 3 sizes of rubber adapters for different sized ears, and the small ones are perfect for me. I can use them all day without any discomfort at all.
posted by be11e at 4:58 PM on May 25, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you all for your advice! I should have mentioned that I can't wear foamy earplugs either (I know, I'm so picky!) so none of the foamy options would work. I just wanted to follow up:

I first tried the JBuds recommended by be11e, since they were so cheap I figured it was worth a shot. They were unfortunately horribly uncomfortable and I couldn't stand more than a minute. I passed those on to my fiance.

I was really intrigued by the construction of the UrbanEars Medis that kendrak mentioned, and the price was reasonable, so I got a pair. They're noticeable but definitely tolerable. I wore on the way to and from work today (1/2 hr or so each way) and then on a call this evening. I reallllyyy liked having the mic for phone calls, and the person on the line said she could hear me just fine. I also like the little button that you can use to pause music or end a call. My only regret is that I didn't buy a bright color, because the black ones are hard to find in my bag.

I may eventually try the Bose ones as well since they were recommended by several MeFites.

Thanks again, Metafilter!
posted by radioamy at 8:54 PM on June 12, 2013

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