Deep in-the-ear earbuds that don't leak sound.
November 20, 2007 12:01 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for cheap, deep-in-the-ear earbuds for listening to audiobooks. The sound quality doesn't have to be great, because I won't use them to listen to music. I want cheap ones, because I inevitably break headphones, and I don't want to have to spend $100 every month. On the other hand, I'm willing to spend $20 a month if I have to. In-the-ear, because I don't want to keep my wife awake with "leaking" sound.

I listen audiobooks when I have insomnia, which is way too often. But if there's even a tiny bit of noise leakage, my wife complains. The only solution I've found is that sort of earbud that sticks way in your ear canal. There's no leakage, and I can keep the volume really low and still hear.

My full-bodied (enclose-the-ear) headphones don't leak, but they're too uncomfortable when I'm lying on my side, which is what I mostly do in bed. Only earbuds seem to allow me to lie on my side.

For whatever reason, I'm finding it harder and harder to find earbuds that go deep inside your ear. I live in NYC, and all the ones I see are those ones with the little round buds on the end. Those leak too much.

I've tried expensive ones, but they're not worth the $ if you're just listening to audiobooks. Also, I'm careless with them. I break them and lose them.

I thought I found EXACTLY what I was looking for at Radio Shack. Deep-in-the-ear headphones for $10 (I got a better deal than what you'll see via the above link). I figured they'd be crappy and that I'd have to replace them, but I'm fine with $10 a month. So I bought about five of them. And -- no joke -- they lasted about three days each! After that point, the sound kept cutting off, and I had to constantly bend them and put rubber bands around them to get any sound out of them at all. I guess you get what you pay for.

Feel free to suggest other solutions or talk me into expensive headphones. I want a solution, and I'm willing to think outside my box.

Requirements: no leakage. comfortable when lying on side. inexpensive (in the long term).
posted by grumblebee to Technology (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
i just bought a pair of these skullcandy earbuds at target. they were cheap, so i didn't expect much. i was surprised to find that they sealed my ear really well and provided much better bass and clarity than i expected.
posted by gnutron at 12:07 PM on November 20, 2007

I really like these JVC Earbuds. I use them all the time working out and they fit snug and play great.
posted by sanka at 12:08 PM on November 20, 2007

I love these Philips - Virtual Surround Sound In-Ear Headphones. The sound quality is great for the price and there is almost no leakage.
posted by slavlin at 12:11 PM on November 20, 2007

I'm pretty sure these are the ones I've got. They come with a several pairs of rubber bits to fit different sized ear canals, which is nice. Good quality sound.
posted by me3dia at 12:14 PM on November 20, 2007

I like JVC too
posted by matteo at 12:15 PM on November 20, 2007

Philips SHE9500. Theyre cheap, tough, and sound great.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:20 PM on November 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have these ones from the Source, which is the Canadian version of Radio Shack.

I've had them for about 6 months and the cord just started giving me trouble last week, but the sound is good and they are very effective at blocking sound leakage.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 12:28 PM on November 20, 2007

I have had these for over a year, and like you, I abuse them (drop them, step on them, etc.). They still work great and they're pretty cheap for the sound quality.
posted by rooftop secrets at 12:40 PM on November 20, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you all. I'm curious as to how many of you have tried the "sleeping partner" test with your earbuds. I know that most earbuds don't leak a lot of sound, but -- in my experience -- they do tend to leak a tiny bit.

I know this, because I've used earbuds in bed for years, and whenever I do, my wife says, "I can HEAR it!" I have to turn down the sound to almost inaudible levels to stop disturbing her. Maybe she's go especially good hearing. It won't work if the sound is ever-so-slightly audible. That drives her crazy.

When I found those Radioshack ones, I was finally able to listen to my ipod at a reasonable volume without disturbing her. Alas, those earbuds suck in every other way.

For those of you who don't mind doing this, please try your suggested headphones in a really quiet room (e.g. your bedroom at night) and ask someone else to stand very close to you. If he/she can hear ANYTHING, those earbuds won't work for me.
posted by grumblebee at 12:40 PM on November 20, 2007

I've been pretty happy with these Jbuds over the last month that I've had them. I don't know about sound leakage, but they fit pretty well in my ears, so I imagine it's minimal.
posted by chrisamiller at 12:54 PM on November 20, 2007

the phillips ones leak quite a bit... for audiobooks they would be annoyingly base-heavy too.

i think any ear-bud with a 'bud' (i.e. a ball) instead of a cone is going to leak.

my etymotics really worked well but the cable went and i haven't had the energy to try to fix it... i thin the shure e2c is less fragile than the etymotics ones...
posted by geos at 1:15 PM on November 20, 2007

I have two pairs of the philips ones slavlin linked to above (because I thought I'd lost one pair); they're really good and seem pretty durable. Loud too!
posted by lowlife at 1:28 PM on November 20, 2007

Seconding Skullcandy. I got them (based on recommendations from another askme) and it works great. It would be perfect for your needs and only 18 bucks with shipping (I got it off of ebay).
posted by special-k at 1:32 PM on November 20, 2007

ok. if you're gonna go in-ears i think you should end up shelling out a little bit of money for a better pair of earphones, they'll end up having a warranty/ repairs AND will have a better seal. (the ones i have from super-fi come with "earplug" type attachments for extra isolation)...

check out the guide that the people at Head Room have (btw dont hesitate to give them a call they're awesome)
posted by stratastar at 1:33 PM on November 20, 2007

Best answer: I recommend trying the original Koss Plugs. They're cheaper and supposedly better.

The Koss Spark Plugs you found at Radio Shack are actually an "upgraded" model of the fairly popular Koss Plug earbuds. The Koss Plugs have a surprising following due to the "mod" community - people have come up with a variety of ways to improve the sound quality of the little buggers. I bought a pair myself hoping to get a great sound on the cheap but was disappointed with the audio quality for music, even after the modifications.

Anyway, the original Plugs (not the Spark Plugs you bought) may be of better build quality. I've not read any horror stories like yours about the original plugs. For that matter, it seems like you may've gotten a bad batch from the factory or something, as five dead pairs in three weeks time is a little unusual. They're only $10/pair on Amazon (free shipping over $25 too), so it's not like it's a big risk.

Oh, and I definitely think you're on the right track with the Plugs as far as sound leakage. The huge, deep rubber surrounds (that I personally found so uncomfortable) stops all possible sound leakage. Even other, high-dollar "sealed" in-ear buds won't prevent leakage like the Plugs. I'm not sure if Koss or a competitor has any other models based on that design, but that's what you need to look for: Fat honkin' rubber inserts.
posted by sprocket87 at 1:37 PM on November 20, 2007

I'd give serious consideration to springing for some Shure e2cs or something in that lineup. I know you don't want to spend a lot, but these things are the closest I have found to indestructible. They go pretty much everywhere with me and are constantly being crushed and pulled around inside my messenger bag or whatever miscellaneous place I've stored them.

I have a hard time imagining that listening to audiobooks in bed could result in them being seriously harmed.
posted by feloniousmonk at 2:23 PM on November 20, 2007

I know you specifed $20/month, but I think you would be happiest with Etymotic Research's er6 buds. If you're looking for smaller buds that won't fatigue your ears, come with a clip so that you can secure them against accidental cord jerking and to prevent loss, and have perfect sound, they are hard to beat. The Shure e2c comes with a sturdier case but is a little less sweet-fitting, but that may just be from the size and shape of my ear canal. They are both available for around ~$100-150.
posted by onalark at 4:12 PM on November 20, 2007

Seconding Shure, for their warranty. For two years they replace them, no questions asked. Then they charge you a flat fee for any repairs.
For any of our earphone products the replacement fee is the same. The reasoning is that you already spent the money once, so you should always have the ability to replace the product at reasonable cost. Those who buy an E2c for $99 might not be happy that the replacement fee is the same as it is for the $499 product (E5c), but that's the policy.

Same thing for our dynamic microphones - $55 gets you a brand new one, no matter what the state of the microphone is. Drive over it with a Mack truck, send it in to us, if it can't be fixed, $55 gets you a new one. For our more expensive microphones (condensers) the fee is $80, but still quite good IMO.
You can email them at personalaudio shure com.

I have a pair of E3Cs that sound amazing, especially with their new black foam fittings. They block a huge amount of noise both ways - my girlfriend can fall asleep next to me while I listen to audio books, and I can survive noisy trains and crying kids.
posted by stereo at 6:55 PM on November 20, 2007

Oh, and my Shure are comfortable on the side if you punch your pillow in a sort of donut shape. The plastic does stand out a couple of millimetres.
posted by stereo at 6:57 PM on November 20, 2007

Nthing the JVC Marshmallows that sanka linked to. I have a few pairs and they have held up well, have great sound and are quite snug.
posted by bristolcat at 7:23 PM on November 20, 2007

My favourite pair of earphones ever are these Sennheiser ones. They don't leak sound at all in my experience. I've tried Shure e2cs, Koss Plugs, and the Sony ones someone else has linked; I found the Shures a bit fiddly (they go in your ears at a weird angle), Koss Plugs a bit weird, and the Sony ones were OK but I went through two pairs in about a month and both broke in exactly the same way (one earbud suddenly stopped working). The Koss ones don't leak sound but you have to replace the foam often and christ, the wax they pick up. Or maybe that's just me...
posted by terrynutkins at 1:59 AM on November 21, 2007

3rd vote for Shure. Have a pair of E2c that I bought about 5 months ago and the sound isolation is great.
Using them means I can have the volume at a very low level even on a plane, vs the max volume I used to have on the standard iPod earphones.
I listen to a lot of podcasts and the clarity of spoken word is great.
posted by arcticseal at 2:20 AM on November 21, 2007

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