Looking for earbuds for travel
August 13, 2017 9:07 AM   Subscribe

I'm taking a trip to Europe for a month (yay!!) which involves a lot of travel from place to place by bus and by plane. I'm looking for mid-range earbuds that won't break the bank (around $100 USD). Sound quality is more important to me than popularity. Beats and Bose are out, for their underwhelming sound quality and extortionist price points. More below the fold.

Sound-wise, I'm not an audiophile.... just really picky. I can pick up on sound that's too tinny, bass-y, or flat and it drives me bananas. I realize that my price point limits my options.

Review sites seem to cater to the big box brands (Beats, Apple, Bose) and based on my experience, the sound quality of all of the above leaves a *lot* to be desired. While I'd like to stay away from products that are overpriced, I also want something that will sound good and won't break in a year.

I'm really impressed by reviews for the 1More Triple Driver, BUT I like the design of the RHA T10i's. I also saw really positive reviews for the Sennheiser Momentum in terms of sound quality, but they had really weak reviews regarding build quality so those are probably out. If there's another contender at those price points, I'm all ears! (Sorry, couldn't resist).

What I'm looking for:
  • $100 is my price point, give or take.
  • Reasonably accurate sound quality (not bass-boosted or other nonsense)
  • In-ear style, either buds or wraparound.
  • Minimum sound leakage
  • Noise isolating (not canceling - gives me a headache).
  • Good quality (i.e. won't crap out in a year).
What else should I look at? Recommendations for either brands or specific models of in-ear headphones are welcome.
posted by onecircleaday to Technology (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have these Etymotics and they are very accurate and have a relatively flat response. They're about in your price range. Etymotic is Mead Killion's company - he invented the in-ear earphone and he makes fantastic stuff. I really love these earphones.

I use them with custom earmolds, which I always recommend to people as well. Earmolds will deliver way more in terms of sound quality and noise isolation than any upgrade in earphone, but of course they'll probably cost you a hundred bucks.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:30 AM on August 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I would second the 1 More Triple Drivers. I've heard a lot around the $100 price point and my favorite were the RHA MA750 for $120. If you want to go cheap the KZ ZS5 are supposed to be some amazing quad driver earphones for $36. They will not have the sturdy build of the RHA but their cords are detachable and you can buy extras for $11.
posted by mattholomew at 9:43 AM on August 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I meant to add, I did not like the Sennheiser Momentum in ear. They sounded 'artificial' and the housings stick way out of your ears which creates a ton of wind noise when you're outside.
posted by mattholomew at 9:47 AM on August 13, 2017

Best answer: I'd recommend Comply tips for earbuds. Way better isolation & comfort than the silicone crap most buds come with. They make several "lines" for different uses: sport, isolation, comfort, etc. and you'll have to get size & type for your particular earbuds. Isolation, as the name implies, is really only good if you need to isolate yourself. If you need to be aware of your surroundings, don't go for the isolation buds. They do work excellent on airplanes with screamy babies a row away or loud settings when trying to sleep.

Those particular ones mate to these $50 buds that are very high quality for what you pay.
posted by ijoyner at 10:01 AM on August 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have the SoundMagic ones ijoyner mentions, and they're flipping excellent for the price.
posted by pipeski at 10:38 AM on August 13, 2017

Best answer: The 1mores are pretty decent for $100. The build quality is a little suspect, but I may have just been unlucky.

Seconding the Comply recommendation. They'll improve just about any earbud experience.
posted by praemunire at 11:27 AM on August 13, 2017

Best answer: I trust the Wirecutter's guide to beat earbuds under $100 implicitly. They hire an expert in the field to do meta-reviews of everything on the market, and are very current.
posted by artificialard at 11:31 AM on August 13, 2017

Best answer: Seconding etymotics. We've had 5 pairs in the last 10 or so years. Two pair were lost. None are broken, build quality excellent, both at the $100-ish level and at the $65-ish level. The only noticable difference between the 65 and 100+ we have seems to be the size.

There are lots of eartips to choose from, even a few that don't come them but can be ordered on the website. Isolation level depends on the eartips you use with them. Also, as noted above, custom molds available.

I like how they sound, with both lossless music and low bitrate audiobooks. In my opinion, they don't trade upper or midrange for huge bass.

No sound leakage at all when in your ears, if you mean others hear your music. The other way, well, I've been in waiting rooms and not heard someone shouting my name.
posted by monopas at 11:39 AM on August 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: FWIW, Wirecutter has checked out the etymotics hf5 and didn't like them, but did suggest that if one likes the sound of older Grado headphones (not about bass at all) then these might make you happy. The remarks are at the bottom of the competition bullet point section.

So it makes sense that I like them, because I'm awfully fond of my old Grado headphones.
posted by monopas at 11:58 AM on August 13, 2017

Best answer: I've had the Shure SE215s in about 4 different incarnations of the model and still swear by them.
posted by Phire at 3:37 PM on August 13, 2017

Best answer: The Shure SE215 headphones are really good, but they loop over the back of your ears to stay in place, which isn't comfortable for everyone.
posted by cnc at 6:05 PM on August 13, 2017

I have been through dozens upon dozens of earbud brands and models and have been disabused of the notion that a budget range equals any guarantee of sound or build quality.

There are lots of *very good* sounding budget buds out there these days. When I travel, I buy three or four pairs of these Panasonics (having backup pairs is handy and it's not like it takes up much room to carry them). They sound nearly as good as any $100 buds you can find and they isolate external sound sufficiently enough that you can listen on the plane at a comfortable level. The response is consistent at any volume--the low end is clear but not hyped.
posted by quarterframer at 8:45 PM on August 13, 2017

I've been a fan and user of Etymotics for more than a decade. Super solid headphones, super great isolation, and they compare favorably to my other traditional headphones from Grado and Sennheiser.
posted by uberchet at 7:22 AM on August 14, 2017

Response by poster: Following up on this thread for anyone who needs to see it in the future. I ended up going with the 1More Triple Drivers. I liked them well enough, but their stock foam tips didn't seal quite right so I went with the Comply 600 series "Isolating" foam tips.

What an incredible difference. The sound went from "good" to "outstanding." I love the 1More's, and can wear them for hours at a time at work. I also sleep with earplugs, so my ears get sore, but not so sore that I can't keep the tips in.

Thank you, all, for the recommendations! I'll definitely revisit this in the future if/when these wear out.
posted by onecircleaday at 11:15 AM on September 11, 2017

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