Earbud Showdown

A couple of months ago, while burning calories on an elliptical machine, I noticed that my trusty Apple earbuds were increasingly sounding horrible. It eventually got to the point where any sound that was even remotely loud was just crackling to the point where it was unbearable. My Apple earbuds had finally bitten the dust.

I started looking around for a new pair of earbuds and found the selection to be a tad overwhelming but I eventually found a pair I really love. Hopefully this little “showdown” will help you with some comparison shopping when you’re in the market for a new pair of earbuds.

Something worth noting here. I’m not a professional sound engineer and in no way claim to be some sort of professional in that area. I like music and more importantly I like listening to my music with the best sound quality possible. This review is meant to help the “average” user find a pair of earbuds. If you’re a pro sound engineer, chances are you don’t need this article. :)

The Tests

In an effort to keep the playing field as level as possible there were a few common tests I do.

Comfort/Fit Test: I wore each earbud for approximately 30 minutes while running (a common situation when earbuds would be used).

Bass Response/Sound Clarity/Noise Reduction Tests: I put each earbud through a run of the following 4 songs:

JLab JBuds

JLab JBudsI knew up front that JLab JBuds were on “economy” side of the scale when I started using them. Unfortunately they never really moved out of that categorization.

At only $19.95, they are certainly the most affordable option by a long shot, but at the sake of low pricing JLab seems to have sacrificed quality as well.

When listening to everything form hip-hop to rock, the sound was just plain muddy. The range of response was small and they just didn’t sound good. On top of that, they were quite uncomfortable and had a strong tendency of not staying in my ears well (regardless of what size “bud” I used).

V-Moda Vibe

V-Moda Vibe I had seen the V-Moda Vibe earbuds in a slew of commercials and they were being pushed pretty hard at my local Apple store so I was anxious to give these a try.

These were fairly comfortable though they were almost so pill-like that I felt like they’d just get stuck in my ear canal.

While the bass response wasn’t quite up to par of what V-Moda claimed, the sound clarity on these was great. For the hip-hip tunes, I wasn’t that impressed but on electronic, pop, and rock they were really quite enjoyable.

The downfall of these, atleast for me, is price. At about $100 they just seem overpriced. They are certainly marketed for their “style” and it just seems like a large portion of the $100 goes towards the hip-factor…something I don’t find that useful and certainly don’t think is worth paying for.

Sennheiser CX55

Sennheiser CX55 Sennheiser has been in the audio business for over 60 years and in that time have come close to perfecting the art of delivering sound.

One of their newest sets of earbuds is the CX55 model.

These were definitely some of the most comfortable earbuds I’ve ever worn. They were extremely light and I at times it was easy to forget they were even in my ears.

The sound quality was great and bass response was solid. The only thing against these are noise reduction. Outside sound made it’s way in fairly easily so if you’re listening to music on something like a crowded bus or in the subway, it could be noticeable.

In terms of value, these have the most bang-for-buck. At around $80 these are still quite affordable and deliver superior quality at such a low price point.

Etymotic ER-4

Etymotic ER-4 Wow. I’m impressed. The Etymotic ER-4’s are some of the best earbuds I’ve ever used.

The base response and sound clarity are top of the line in terms of consumer earbuds. I really can’t say enough good things about the sound quality. But what really does it for me is the noise reduction. When you have these earbuds in, the outside world is practically silent thanks to their 3-flange eartips that give an extremely solid seal on the sound.

One thing I really like about Etymotic as a company is that they genuinely want to educate their buyers on sound and how to get the best sound quality out of their products.

The ER-4 comes with an entire “kit”, of sorts, with a plethora of different foam and rubber eartips as well as replacement filters for the earbuds.

At $300 they are definitely the most expensive set in the lineup, but if you’ve got the money to pick these up, I highly suggest them as they are one of the highest quality consumer earbuds on the market.

Comparison Chart

The ratings below are on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the best and 1 being the worst.

  Comfort Fit Bass Response Sound Clarity Noise Reduction Price Overall Value
JBuds 2 1 2 2 2 $19.95 1
Etymotic ER-4 4 5 5 5 5 $299 4
V-Moda Vibe 3 3 3 4 3 $101 2
Sennheiser CX55 5 4 4 4 3 $79.95 5

Disclosure: The items covered in this review were provided by their respective vendors.

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