In ear headphones 2024
I have been investigating sound quality on in ear headphones you can buy from consumer stores rather than any professional stores. What I end up using might surprise you. The best sound I get, comfort, portability, affordability, fit, are a set of wired JBL endurance headphones that are fully waterproof, which has been great for my hikes and cost me only $60 CAD. Beating out Airpods Pro, Beats+ Pro and Shure 215s for me.
It's been an interesting journey, mainly driven to find the best affordable option but importantly sound quality. I've found a great cheap option that give great sound output for movies and music making.
I use my headphones for a couple of things which is why they are important to me right now, monitoring sound on video recording, portable sound for my portable music studio setup, and listening to music, videos and movies.
In the past, I've used a high quality headphone setup when I dedicated office. I no longer have a dedicated office and been working in different locations, so I've wanted the same quality when travelling around. The setup that gave me the best sound at the time was a headphone DAC, Amplifier, planar magnetic headphones, which cost quite a bit and took years to obtain.
Headphone output doesn't exist on modern iPhones and Androids, so you have to buy a dongle, which for some reason never achieves the right amplification volume output compared to a dedicated headphone jack, the Thinkpad x250 and Pixel 3a in my testing. I have tried amazon online ordered dongles and others I've bought from stores. The best I've found so far on both iPhone and Android are the official Apple dongles. They are also quite cheap at around ~$20.
Once we're using the headphone jack, you have already achieved a massive step up in sound quality due the drop when using Bluetooth. Bluetooth not only reduces the quality but has a slower latency. And for me now I only need to carry one set of headphones that I can use for my laptop and then also my music making digital instruments. Those annoying drops of sound when you walk past a busy city intersection won't be an issue anymore.
"But Kalv, what about the cable? It gets in the way" you're probably thinking. Yes there is a cable, your choice do you want to manage a cable which isn't that hard to do and spend only $60 for high quality sound quality when you need it or $200+ for the convenience. One more advantage in case it matters to you, these wired headphones will work on planes. Bluetooth earbuds don't.
For the last week I've been using these wired set of headphones over my Beats Studio Pro+ earbuds. Which I picked up after loosing an Airpod when running on the beach in Puerto Escondido
The massive win for me is also, no battery. Yep another battery that I can now remove from my every day carry and also stress about charging.
I've been comparing these wired headphones to sound isolating bluetooth sets and pricing in this article because of the seal they give. When you're playing music at a good volume and have a good fit seal on the ear (which for me, these JBLs do that) they are just as a good if not better than the Airpods Pro and Beats+ Studio Pro buds I have.
For most of 2023, I used the official Apple earbuds with line-in mic, but the seal was better with the JBL when I picked them up. I still use the official apple airpods as it gives the most common sound signature that others would hear.
The full list of headphones I tried and specific notes would take too long to write up on this quick Friday post.
Accidental discoveries worth sharing:
- For some reason the Beats Studio earbuds sounded way quieter on Android, I tried to reset it, disable some Developer options but couldn't get it to sound as high as they'd work on Apple.
- Roland S-1 USB DAC output with a set of Audio Technica ATH-M50x, wired. Best portable movie sound experience and you get a synth for free :)
- Thinkpad X250 which cost me $200 CAD a couple of years ago has the best headphone output, the volume just keeps going up and up. Using it for sample offloading to op-1 and op-z has been the best. If the headphone drivers them, the sound keeps getting larger and more spacious.
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