FOR MID RANGE
Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear ($86.48)
This design is not quite as spectacular as some of the German manufacturer’s past efforts. For $100, it provides an affordable and reliable way for fans of the low-end to get their fix. It throws a truckload of powerful yet clear bass at everything it touches, which is glorious for the crowd it is aiming at.
The Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear comes at the expense some of the sharpness in the mids, but its treble is crisp enough. And, nothing ever really gets close to being unbearable. So, it is great for what it is, but it is worth knowing what you are getting into. The Momentum’s buds are stylish despite their largely plastic build, and the whole thing comes with a functional inline mic and control set for either Android or IOS devices. Also, it fits well.
- Thunderous yet clear bass
- Lightweight and good looking
- Mids get swallowed a bit
- Made of plastic
RHA MA-750 ($119.95)
The brand name is not as big of a name as some of the other entries on my shortlist. However, the Glasgow-based company has been pumping out refined, high-performing in-ears for years now.
The MA-750 get my attention here for a few reasons: they are beautiful with the sturdy stainless steel finish that gives off a high-class look and feel. With forceful highs and lows, they sound wonderful for the money- spacious and detailed. There is also a good bit of noise isolation here. The buds are little weighty and the copper cable swings around the ear. Though they are quite comfortable, RHAs provide a truckload of tips for you to choose from. With the countless reviews across the web, the MA-750s with their included three-year warranty give you one of the surest bets on the shortlist.
- Powerful sound with rich low
- Mids could be a little more defined
Sony XBA-H1 ($148)
Like any kind of tech, in-ear headphones improve in quality the higher you go up the price scale. As a real evident, I highlight the XBA-H1s, a higher-end pair of Sonys. This design is best the XB50s above in every way. For $150, they have supremely accurate and well-balanced sound. The sound is across the frequencies and musical genres. Also, it is along with a svelte design and various ear tips that are not uncomfortable in the ear. The one notable downside here is the XBA-H1’s lack of inline control. However, that is easy to forgive when you get a sound profile with so few weaknesses.
- Stylish and finely crafted
- Superbly balanced and clear sound
- Includes lots of ear tips
- No built-in mic or remote.
FOR PREMIUM PERFORMANCE
Bowers & Wilkins C5 S2 ($179.99)
Following up to Bowers & Wilkins’s popular C5 earbuds, the C5 Series 2 is a bountiful high-end option for bass lovers. Like the last versions, the C5 S2s sound massive without distorting sound any end, even at higher decibel levels. Lively bass is the focal point, but the highs are still bright and clear as the lows thump away. All features are aided by a remote and microphone combo, which is tailored toward iPhone users.
Most reviewers of the C5 S2s tend to accord with its sound quality, but responses are more mixed when it comes to its design. The in-ears use a loop design that is meant to stick in your ear, but they could either have a hard time staying still if your ears are too big or just give you some soreness if your ears are too small. Bowers & Wilkins offers you a 2-year warranty with any purchase. If everything checks out, you will have plenty of rich lows to bump to.
- Strong, bass-forward yet balanced sound
- Striking looks
- Might be a difficult fit
- Inline controls leave non-iOS users in the cold.
Master & Dynamic ME05 ($199)
Though Master & Dynamic is only two a couple of years old, it is earned a spot at the big kids table by melding upmarket design with performance that holds its own. It offers full-size MH40 and on-ear MH30, so it goes with the in-ear ME05. Moreover, that taste of the chic manifests itself in the form of brass earphones, which indeed qualify as high-end. When the headphones are stuffed in your ear canals, style matters less. Nonetheless, there is a sort of intangible pleasantness to seeing and holding something this ritzy. The ME05s are comfortable because they balanced their materials very well. Although there are four sets of ear tips in the box, you had no problem getting them to fit snugly.
The only major complaints are that the cable is a bit short and the ear tips have a weird habit of coming undone when removed. It is also a good sign when those nitpicks are the worst you can come up with. Any $200 earphone that is not noise canceling has to sound great to justify the cost. Thankfully, the ME05s do the same way. It brings clear emphasis on the bass and low-mids. Besides, it is more lively and full than it is boomy and geared toward bass heads. There has a good detail, the soundstage is fairly wide, and the mids are expensive. They can feel a bit pushed back by comparison and a hair of sibilance at points, but the highs are clear and present enough to keep the whole thing balanced. Most non-purists will not feel shortchanged here. Moreover, add in the laudable aesthetics and comfort, and you have the kind of total package from this price range.
- Handsome and comfortable
- Full, bass-forward sound
- Isolates noise well
- Highs could be a little more present
- Eartips have a tendency to come off
Bose QuietComfort 20 ($299)
Even though they lack the sonic qualities of fellow $250 buds, Bose’s QuiteComfort 20s are the king of noise canceling in-ear headphones. After more than 1,600 reviews and professional testers are just as approving, they hold a stellar 4.5 user rating on Amazon.
All in-ears can be quite external noises to an extent, but competitors in this category can hush the outside world as deeply as the QC20s can. The buds also come with a feature Bose calls “Aware Mode” that tones down the noise-cancelling tech at the press of a button. This feature helps you hear your surroundings without muting your music.
The QC20s are comfortable in the ear; however, you should only pay for them if you need that noise-cancelling tech. The actual sound quality of the buds is good, but not special. It lacks in the bass and is not as expensive as a $250 pair of headphones should be. The QC20s also come with a small built-in battery pack. This is a pain to lug around even if it gets you up around 15 hours of near-silence on a single charge. As a result, if you need the peace, the QC20s are far and away the go-to pick.
- Best in class noise cancellation
- Remarkably compact and comfortable
- Battery is not replaceable
- Sound quality is decent, but not on level of others in price range