Earbuds: Which Ones to Get & How to Make Them Last
September 9, 2015 12:51 PM   Subscribe

Looking for earbud recommendations and strategies for care.

My Sony earbuds started going on the fritz recently—sound only comes through one side and the volume fluctuates. I glanced through some DIY repair instructions, and I’m really not up for futzing with wires. (Not concerned about the danger; I just don’t have the necessary tools.) This is the third pair I’ve gone through in as many years. Does a brand of earbuds exist that have a goodly long life?

Also, how can I get the most mileage out of earbuds, regardless of brand? I recently bought a little clamshell case for them, but according to some sources, all the bending can mess with the wiring.

Thanks in advance!
posted by xenization to Shopping (19 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: In my experience, the answer is "Not for 15 bucks." A quick google brings up this article, but even the lower end suggested option is $40. If that last three years, you'll break even compared to the cheapo ones you're using now. Unless you're looking at higher-end stuff, the spend 10 or 15 dollars once a year thing seems to be the norm.
posted by papayaninja at 1:12 PM on September 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I have been happy following the Wirecutter recommendations. They've switched since the last time I bought ear buds, but the price is still low ($23).
posted by OmieWise at 1:15 PM on September 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: The main thing about preserving almost any kind of cable is, you don't want to bend the wires back and forth, but loop them in a circle, allowing the cable to twist how it wants so it lies flat. Your circular case looks like a good way to store your earbuds.

I had a pair of Sennheiser sport earbuds that put up with a lot of abuse. They were a hideous orange color so I got them marked down to $16 from $80, a hard deal to replicate. I can't remember the model number for the life of me, though.

I've never found a cheap model of earbuds that weren't essentially disposable, so I just buy them to be disposable. These no-name Chinese buds actually sound pretty good.
posted by zjacreman at 1:23 PM on September 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've been down this road many times with cheap earbuds. The only ones I'd recommend are these Panasonics for 6 bucks. Amazon helpfully tells me I ordered them in July of last year. They roll up small, fit comfortable, and don't sound cheap and tinny.

I recommend against the Monoprice headphones at that price point; the cable noise is shockingly loud.
posted by 4th number at 1:33 PM on September 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I love the a-jays Four ear buds, which are actually an older model so they're still pretty cheap. The heavy, flat, silicone-encased ribbon cord seems to solve a lot of the problems of wear and tear. They do have a tendency to pop out of the ear no matter what actual earbud covers or doo-dads I use, but it's a trade-off I'm willing to make, especially since for whatever reason I'm straight murder on cords that aren't ribbon-style. The sound quality is pretty good. I listen to a lot of classical music and it's acceptable for that in a way that a lot of modern earbuds and headphones just plain aren't, with bass optimization and so on.

They do have about a year's worth of life, but I agree with zjacreman: earbuds are basically disposable, even the good/expensive ones. The only ones I had that have surpassed a year are Etymotics that cost over $200, and just weren't worth the money because of how much of a hassle they are to use for the actual intended purpose of earbuds, even though the sound quality is terrific.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 1:44 PM on September 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I had a pair of Sennheiser CX-300s, which sounded great. When the cable stopped working on those after ~6 years, I bought a pair of these cheap Philips SHE3590 earbuds. They sound just as great! And the Philips earbuds are extremely low-profile, so they barely even bother my ears if I lay down with them in. For the price, they're really fantastic.

For transport and storage, I use a clamshell case just like the one you linked. The big thing is not to throw them loose into a bag, or wrap them up tight around your phone. Still, one of the reasons I went with the cheaper model is that I find that no matter how well I treat them, headphones just have a limited life span - so spending less on an adequate model that I'll replace more often made more sense than investing in a fantastic pair that will likely break before I can really afford to replace them.
posted by dialetheia at 1:49 PM on September 9, 2015

Best answer: I wanted headphones for running and I picked the wirecutter's second choice (first blue tooth choice): JayBird BlueBuds X Sport.

It's ridiculous how much abuse those have taken. I used the clam shell case...occasionally (like almost never). Those bad boys just keep on going.
posted by 26.2 at 2:04 PM on September 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Agree with a lot of stuff on here. Wrap your cables around three our four fingers and stow them carefully away in your case.

One other thing is to buy earbuds that come with replaceable cables. I find that it is the cables that screw up before the earbuds themselves do, and if you do break one of your earbuds, there are usually people on ebay selling the other earbud for pretty cheap.

I currently have a pair of Shure 425 and absolutely love them. They are not the absolute best sounding earbuds I have used - though I'd say they might be the 2nd best. But they are the most comfortable by a long way, and they are pretty small, incredibly sturdy, and come with their own carry case and replaceable cables. Highly recommended. Sure they cost more than your crappy sonys, but I bought them on ebay for £130, they've lasted me a year, and I expect a few more years out of them yet.

Personally, for day to day listening of mp3s on the go, I don't think it is worth spending any more than that anyway.
posted by 0bvious at 4:42 PM on September 9, 2015

Best answer: Storing them in a Altoids tin in my backpack has easily doubled the lifespan of the $20 Skull Candy ear buds that I buy.
posted by COD at 5:05 PM on September 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You don't mention what mp3 player or phone you're using, but if it is an Apple product definitely Google reviews for whatever earbuds you're thinking of buying, they have a shorter (or longer, can't remember) headphone jack and some earbuds just don't work right with them- bad sound, turns voice control off and on, etc. Most places won't take earbuds back after they have been opened.

In general I loosely fold the wires in half twice, trying not to bend them too much, and keep them in a pocket or container that doesn't make them move or twist too much. And keep them away from cats.
posted by Lay Off The Books at 6:34 PM on September 9, 2015

Best answer: I can second 4th number's recommendation of the Panasonic ear buds. I've tried out a number of cheap (sub $20) ear buds, because I think most earbuds are going to have a fairly limited shelf life, and I don't want to waste money on something that could so easily get lost or damaged. I've bought multiple pairs of these over the years, although mostly because I wanted to have several on hand so I could keep them in different places (also, I stupidly accidentally snipped the cord of one with a scissor, but that's hardly the ear bud's fault).

Usually after a while one of the little rubber parts might come off, but if you're willing to switch to one of the alternate sizes, then that's not a deal breaker. I think I've misplaced at least one set, but in my current rotation I have a pair that's about 6 months old and another that's about a year old, and they're still working good as new. I'm not incredibly picky about acoustics, but these definitely have the best sound of any cheap earbuds I've tried. I also find them to be quite comfortable.

And best of all, you can get them for $6. If you're okay not having the top of the line earbud, I would say get one or two pairs of these, and take comfort in the fact that if anything happens to them, you're only out $6.

Oh, and the one other thing is that with other ear buds, I usually end up running into the same issue you're having: sound gets distorted, or even something breaks on the ear bud itself. With the panasonics, the only thing that's ever come off is the rubber ear pad (as I mentioned above), and if that's pretty easy to avoid if you take decent care of them.

tl;dr: There's a reason why these earbuds have more than 20,000 amazon reviews and a 4.5 star rating. It's because they're the platonic ideal of cheap earbuds.
posted by litera scripta manet at 10:13 PM on September 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've tried a bunch of different earbuds including the ones from MonoPrice, but my most recent find is the Xiaomi Piston Youth Edition. They sound fantastic and even offer an inline volume control and mic.

If you're not in a rush TinyDeal has them for $8 with free shipping. Since they ship direct from China, it may take 2-3 weeks to arrive.
posted by the biscuit man at 10:21 PM on September 9, 2015

Best answer: The biggest reason the wires fail? Bending!

Don't wrap them tightly! Don't wrap the wire around anything at all, just loop it gently and put it into something to store. If you bend it around something, that creates a stress point, and do that repeatedly, they either break or the insulation fails and they short out.

The second reason is harder -- the jack creates a place where a bend tends to happen regardless. The device it is plugged into moves. Make sure the cable can move freely with it. If it can't, then the cable bends at the jack, and fails. If the whole cable can move, it's fine.

The big mistake -- jack in phone, then putting phone into pocket with the jack down. That's a 180° bend on the cable -- and it's the big reason iPhone headphone cables fail *right there* because everybody does that. It's also the reason Apple moved the jack to the "bottom" of the phone on the iPhone 5, because everybody would plug in the phone and do that and they were hoping by doing that, the jack would end up on top and this would fix it. Didn't work, people just did it anyway. Don't be those people. If you must do that (and you shouldn't -- the cable can't move, we've just discussed that!) then make sure the jack is up so you're not putting that big sharp bend in the cable.

Really, the 'fix' to the wire failing issue is getting rid of the wires, but that means you now have the Bluetooth problem set, which is a different set of problems, chief among them is the rechargeable battery failing, so you have to replace that instead.

We can't win, can we?
posted by eriko at 6:33 AM on September 10, 2015

Best answer: I'm a huge fan of the devil horns wrap method. It almost completely eliminates headphone tangles by counteracting the twist that you get when wrapping around and around.
posted by rebent at 7:06 AM on September 10, 2015

Best answer: according to some sources, all the bending can mess with the wiring.

It definitely does. Use Sugru to reinforce the weak spots of all your cables. (These links are for repairs so this is preventive. Lots of Sugru tips out there.)
posted by Room 641-A at 7:36 AM on September 10, 2015

Best answer: Thirding the Panasonic earbuds. Wirecutter used to have them (the inline mic version, which is $10) as their top recommendation, and continues to call them fantastic. The Panasonics also seem to have much lower cable noise than other earbuds I've used. I also find them more comfortable.
posted by odin53 at 8:01 AM on September 10, 2015

Best answer: Yeah, I linked to Wirecutter, but the buds I am currently using are the Panasonics that they used to recommend.
posted by OmieWise at 8:38 AM on September 10, 2015

Best answer: I always go for the more durable earbuds out there - instead of having to replace every couple of months I replace maybe once a year or more. Whenever I'm in the market I always check out the PricenFees buying guides they tend to be relatively up to date and their articles are focused on any particular need - in our case, finding some durable earbuds. A google search for most things audio usually brings up one of their articles. I'm currently using the Yurbuds venture duro as they are cheap and last a while.
posted by supergooseyxo at 9:46 AM on September 10, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks, all. This is more info than I'd expected.
posted by xenization at 7:12 AM on September 16, 2015

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