I need new earphones
August 10, 2008 2:47 PM   Subscribe

Looking for durable, preferably in-ear, earphones.

I've been having bad luck with earphones. I just recently purchased Shure SE530PTH earphones. I found a discount on them that was only about $325, I think.

Now, the right ear is starting to cut in and out, depending on the position of the wire. It started to happen when I was dozing off the other night, with my earphones in.

I doubt these have a warranty though, since they were so cheap. I just realized that after I purchased them. Further, I don't have time to send them away, because I need them for when I go back to college in about a week and a half.

So I'm looking for a replacement, I guess. I prefer the in-ear type, because they are just more comfortable. Also, I use them while in class, since I type notes on my laptop, so usually have one side in and one side out. There's just no easy way to do that with over-the-head headphones. I'm open to other types, though.

They need to be comfortable, because most days, I am either wearing them in class, or wearing them at home while on the computer, doing homework, etc. Basically I use them for at least 80% of the day.

Obviously because of the above, they also need to be durable, and last a while. I'd like to not have to replace them for at least a year.

Finally, I would like decent quality, for the occasions when I do actually listen to music with both earpieces in.

My price range is flexible. I'd prefer no more than $150-200, but can spend as much as I need to.
posted by Perpetual Seeker to Technology (29 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I've been very happy with my UltimateEars Super.fi 5s, which Amazon has for less than $200. They are very clever in that the cables detach from the headphones themselves, making it easy to replace and handle about 90% of all the issues you're likely to have from just day-to-day use. I have two pairs now: one for the bag, and one for the home desktop machine.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 2:57 PM on August 10, 2008

I've always found Sennheisers (in general) to be incredibly durable. I've had three different pairs, all somewhat below your price range, and they're all still working perfectly; I've got one old pair still working after 15 years. I regularly fall asleep with my Sennheiser in-ear headphones in, and they get treated really badly - crammed into pockets, thrown about, dropped, wires rolled over by office chairs and so on. I'm sure they're not indestructible, but they're fine examples of German engineering, and the sound quality is definitely in the big league.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:01 PM on August 10, 2008

See my comment about Shure's warranty here. It can't hurt to ask them whether they'll replace them, right?
posted by stereo at 3:11 PM on August 10, 2008

I'd recommend these Sony MDR-EX51s. Not audiophile quality (though excellent compared to 95% of headphones), but I have a pair that I treat like trash that have lasted me two years or so without issue and with no sign of slowing down. The price is certainly right, too. They come in black, you just have to look for them... I linked the first thing one showed up.
posted by The Michael The at 3:12 PM on August 10, 2008

found this to be helpful

posted this week on Gizmodo
posted by decrescendo at 3:15 PM on August 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sony MDR-EX90LP headphones. I have looked far and wide, and have yet to find better ones. Beware, though, as I'm on my second pair - the cord leading into the headphone jack likes to sort of pull out after a year-ish of use. Didn't catch it the first time that happened (hence the second pair), but the new pair just tried to do it again and were stopped in their tracks by a few drops of super-glue. So, aside from that slight annoyance, these headphones are the best, most comfortable in-ear ones you could hope for, clocking in around $110 last I checked.
posted by ewingpatriarch at 6:00 PM on August 10, 2008

I really like the sound quality in the Sony MDR-EX51s, but about three months after purchase, the rubber insulating cable on mine (specifically, the length that goes from the split part to the right ear and sits on the back of the neck) pretty much melted off, revealing bare wires. They still work, and sound great, but... beware. I looked it up and it's a fairly common problem, apparently.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 6:03 PM on August 10, 2008

Huh. I have the Sony MDR-EX51s also (the black ones), and everyday I carelessly toss them into my bag like they said something nasty about my mother, and they've lasted me a good three years. They're certainly cheap enough that it might be worth a gamble.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:10 PM on August 10, 2008

It's worth noting that the Sony MDR-EX51s are really affordable. The white ones tend to have the melty cord issue SmileyChewtrain mentioned, but the black ones have no such issue. I've been mistreating mine for three or four years.
posted by advicepig at 6:23 PM on August 10, 2008

beaucoupkevin: Those look decent. Are they fairly durable?

le morte de bea arthur: Any specific ones you would recommend?

stereo: Good idea. I've e-mailed them.

The Michael The: Interesting. Kind of cheap, though? I wonder how they compare with more expensive ones.

decrescendo: That did indeed help; thanks.

ewingpatriarch: Thanks for the recommendation.

SmileyChewtrain: Thanks for the warning. Interesting differences in people's reports of their durability.

I should mention that before these, I had Etymotic ER6I earphones. They were OK, but I think I must have gone through three in a year. It was partly the fault of my cat, who found them a desirable object to chew through, but even when I was at college, they didn't last very long. In addition, the wires are very flimsy and tangle too easily.
posted by Perpetual Seeker at 6:29 PM on August 10, 2008

advicepig: thanks for the clarification. How do they compare to more expensive brands? I certainly don't mind cheaper earphones, but I want decent sound, too.
posted by Perpetual Seeker at 6:31 PM on August 10, 2008

Thanks too, for that clarification, advicepig. I may pick myself up a pair of those black ones. The ratio of cheapness to quality is about right for a portable pair for me.

Perpetual Seeker - I don't know how to compare the quality to those of the more expensive in ear ones, which I've never owned, but I can say they're pretty isolating - much more so than other pairs in the same price range that I've used.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 6:48 PM on August 10, 2008

I've had a pair of the highest end Sony in-ear phones for years of daily use. (Sorry, no model number.) I even put them through the laundry once and they still sound excellent.
I'm not sure they're up to the level of reproduction you're looking for, but phones > $150 aren't made for durability.
posted by Ookseer at 8:20 PM on August 10, 2008

I went through the same problem: cheap SE530s ($280!), cutting out above the right ear, all of it.
My problem, as it turned out, was a known cable defect. My SE530s were replaced even though they were out of warranty.

if you don't have proof of purchase, they cover you for two years after manufacturing date. There's a four digit datecode on the nub of the Y-splitter (for lack of a better description) and you can figure out what that particular date was by using this calculator; the first three digits of the four-digit code on the Y-splitter are the day and the last one is the year.

If you do need to pay to replace them, you're only out $150, which is still less than retail and gets in under your budget. It does take a while to get back; I sent mine in on the 17th of July, they received it on the 24th, I was informed that a replacement was sent on the 25th... but they're not here yet. It'll probably go faster for you because I'm in Canada.

The Shure team is super friendly and will do what they can to work it out; let us know what happens.
posted by heeeraldo at 10:50 PM on August 10, 2008

le morte de bea arthur: Any specific ones you would recommend?

A friend of mine (a serious audiophile) says the CX 500-B headphones are fantastic, although I only have a much cheaper pair myself (MX400s) and they're plenty good enough for me. About $120 on Amazon.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:16 AM on August 11, 2008

heeeraldo: Are you saying the first three digits is the number of days into the year?


"I'm not sure they're up to the level of reproduction you're looking for, but phones > $150 aren't made for durability."

Really? Disappointing. What price range do you recommend, then?
posted by Perpetual Seeker at 5:38 AM on August 11, 2008

Definitely check into repairs. Our live stage show uses Shure in-ear monitors 6 nights a week for about 10 performers, and they are workhorses (at the higher end, you have more durability). And when they do give out, the warranty or repair at relatively low cost is great.
posted by shinynewnick at 7:24 AM on August 11, 2008

shinynewnick: good to know. I'm just waiting for a reply. It's nice that I may be able to replace these, because I really do like them. I wonder if I can get replacement tips, while I'm at it? I don't know if it is wearing down or what, but sometimes now when I put in the right earpiece, something pokes the inside of my ear if I'm not careful. It also has trouble staying in very well anymore.
posted by Perpetual Seeker at 7:54 AM on August 11, 2008

Perpetual: yeah, sorry. Should've caught that in preview. As for new tips, I had E4s before which had to be replaced, and I just mailed in the headphones themselves but Shure sent back a sealed-in-box pair so you should be getting new ones. Which tips are/were you using?
posted by heeeraldo at 8:16 AM on August 11, 2008

Really? Disappointing. What price range do you recommend, then?

I'm not exactly an expert, but I have heard many stories of the failure of "audiophile" quality earphones. I don't buy cheep ones, but I also don't spend so much on them that if I loose them I'm going to miss them. I'd say $80-$120 is a good spot. The components aren't (usually) cheap, but they're not overwhelmingly complex or delicate either. This is for consumer or prosumer stuff. If you really want to splurge then look at professional gear which will run hundreds of dollars but has durability specifically in mind when it is built.

Avoid any company that has a reputation for a great warranty. It means people are using that warranty a lot. Sure and V-Moda are the two that spring to mind "They'll replace them no problem" and sure enough they did, but if they were durable enough they wouldn't need to. You're paying for your replacement when you buy the originals.
posted by Ookseer at 9:23 AM on August 11, 2008

heeeraldo: I'm using the large foam tips.
posted by Perpetual Seeker at 12:29 PM on August 11, 2008

shure have lower priced headphones too.
Also the warranty in shures are rock solid and excellent customer service.

Iam a shure customer with e4c.
posted by radsqd at 1:11 PM on August 11, 2008

Wow, it's amazing how your idea of "cheap" differs from mine when it comes to headphones. Anyway, I have a pair of Etymotic ER-6i in-ear headphones (around $85), which I think have good sound, but not being an audiophile, I can't really tell one way or the other. My first pair lasted more than 2 years before one ear started cutting in and out due to a loose connection.
posted by lsemel at 8:50 PM on August 11, 2008

lsemel, you're lucky. I also had that same brand, but went through 3 in a year. One of them stopped working because of my cat, but the others mostly failed on their own. In addition, the wires tangle really easily.
posted by Perpetual Seeker at 7:00 AM on August 12, 2008

Shure replied. These are not under warranty, so I'd have to pay $145 to get them repaired. I may do so, anyway.
posted by Perpetual Seeker at 7:06 AM on August 14, 2008

So about those Sony MDR-EX51s, I think they sound great, but I'm pretty untrained in the musical ways. I do know that they do a really great job of sounding full and loud at much lower volumes than anything else I've used, but I'm not the kind of guy to spend over $60 on headphones. If you are that kind of guy, it's probably worth the $20 experiment to see if they meet with your standards.
posted by advicepig at 2:27 PM on August 14, 2008

advicepig: Thanks. I don't know, I don't really trust $20 earphones. I have a feeling it'd be a sharp contrast with my current ones.

I might deal with these as long as I can, and then send them away to get replaced for $145.

Maybe I'll buy them though while I'm waiting for mine to come back.
posted by Perpetual Seeker at 2:40 PM on August 14, 2008

OK, I got the Sony MDR-EX51. I think, well it had LP after the name, but not sure if that matters.

They pretty much stink. I might be able to deal with them for two weeks, but now the urgency is not so great to send these away, lol.

By the way, to those who have the SE530, I know they are suppoesd to be looped around the ear, and I think that's my problem so far, because I've not really done that. They work just fine usually when I have them looped around. But are they supposed to just be looped back once, or fully around, like twice (i.e., up around the front, down, back up around)? They stay in place better with the latter position.
posted by Perpetual Seeker at 5:56 PM on August 14, 2008

the LP at the end of the model number refers to the cord length; when Sony sold minidisc players, there were SP versions with shorter cords to accomodate the inline remotes. there were also SL's, which were short but came with extensions.

As for wearing the 530s, I usually have them looped back just once; I use the triflange tips which provide a good seal and reduce wobbling/moving/cord issues.
posted by heeeraldo at 12:54 AM on August 17, 2008

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