I consume earbuds at a fairly constant rate. They get lost, or washed, or fall apart. And then I need new ones. Unlike the collection of large headphones, or “cans” if you will, that I’ve accumulated over the course of ten years without casualty, earbuds are practically disposable. So I don’t like paying a lot of money for them. Nevertheless, I want a product with some level of quality.
For a few years, I started with V-moda Vibe earbuds. Not cheap, but this was before I realized I’d be purchasing so many. Good sound, a little bass heavy perhaps (also good?), but prone to wearing out. The cable would eventually split at the jack. In hindsight, this was because, for reasons that defy my understanding of physics, the iPod Nano in my pocket would always get turned around with the jack on the bottom, forcing the cable to make a sharp 180 turn. These are no longer made, but Amazon will let you have a pair for only $150. Even more than when new!
These days headphones don’t wear out as frequently because I use my phone instead, and it doesn’t get turned around, keeping the pressure off the cable. But I no longer keep the headphones attached to the phone at all times. They get left behind at bars, in pockets, in backpacks, in the wash. Everywhere. So I still need a steady supply.
Until recently, my headphones of choice were noname buds from Radio Shack. I think they were about $8 and worked just fine. I bought them really to hold me over until I found something better, but they ended up being just perfect. In fact, on vacation I passed a Radio Shack going out of business and bought two more pairs for $3 each. Unfortunately, they are all gone now and are no longer to be found in stores.
I was without headphones for a bit, which would have been fine, but then I needed to take the subway. Ran into a Five Below ($5 store) and found a two pack of headphones. That should have been suspect, but they were Maxell branded, so I thought maybe not too bad. Hahaha, so wrong. The cable wasn’t even quite long enough to reach, and the sound was atrocious. Hard plastic molded in the shape of not an ear. Not worth keeping as even a backup; immediately discarded. Maxell, how could you discard your good name for the sake of such a crappy product? Never again will I trust your floppy disks with my important data.
OK, that’s a lot of background to say that last week I went on an Amazon shopping spree. I was looking for something reasonable under about $10.
Sentry Balls. $4. Cheap. And really loud, somehow. But very muffled. Also, a tremendous amount of wind noise. Didn’t even know that could be a problem. Verdict: balls.
Panasonic RPHJE120K. $6. Weirdly shaped. Comfortable enough once inserted, but putting them on feels slightly awkward. Sound is pretty good.
Sony MDREX15LP. $9. Moving up in the world. This was pretty much exactly what I was after. Sound good, solid fit. At some point I discovered another pair of these. Then I lost them, going back down to one pair.
Symphonized NRG. $25. Way over budget, but they’re made from real wood. Probably gluten free, too. The best of the lot. Remind me quite a bit of the original V-moda pairs. These ended up being uncomfortable to wear for a long time. Not quite a perfect fit. Also, the jack seems fragile; I’m starting to hear crackles when it twists.
Initial impressions only. I haven’t used any of them long enough to know when they’ll wear out. The Sentry pair is going into the emergency use only bin, the Panasonic probably into the desk drawer, and I’ll wear the Sony pair. The Symphonized pair maybe I’ll save for longer trips, involving planes or trains when I don’t feel like packing a full size headset.
Longer term: Sony wins.