The Best of ABi: In-Ear Phones

best of iems The Best of ABi: In Ear Phones

To continue the trend Andreas started with his Accessories post, here’s a quick reminder of some of the best in-ear phones we reviewed.

Let’s start with one of our Editor’s Choice phones, the Phonak Audéo PFE 112. They are the right choice for clarity, precision, and speed. They are very dynamic and revealing, with a neutral bass response – basically, they work with any music you throw at them, no matter how complex. For mixing, mastering, and critical listening they are one of the best choices available. In the meantime, Phonak released a version with bass heavier filters as well, called the PFE 012. A new dual-armature model will be coming soon, called the PFE 232. Read the Phonak Audéo PFE 112 review.

Our other Editor’s Choice IEMs are the Hippo VB. Compared to the Phonaks they are a very different animal. The VB provide quite the earth-shattering bass experience, both quality- and quantity-wise. They are extremely fun to listen to, exciting phones that work well with rock, metal, and any kind of electronic music. Their huge bass doesn’t overshadow the rest of the frequency spectrum, they are clearer and more detailed than comparable bassy phones in the sub-$100 price range. The bass response of the VBs can even be tuned to one’s liking with the included three different bass filter plates. Read the Hippo VB review or the huge forum thread about them.

The Panasonic RP-HJE900 are a bit of an underdog that got their deserved recognition as well performing IEMs a little too late. Nobody is quite sure if they’re already discontinued for good, but they can still be bought in several stores. Their MSRP was around $230, but they can be had for as little as $80 nowadays, if one looks around a bit. They are the fanciest looking IEMs of the bunch, made from high quality materials (Zirconium Dioxide), and have user replaceable cables. They’re also quite exciting sounding phones, with a bit less bass and more treble than the Hippo VB. Their dynamics response is outstanding, and their stereo imaging is excellent as well. Read the Panasonic RP-HJE900 review in the forums.

Last, and definitely not least: my personal favorites, the EarSonics SM3. Of all the 50+ IEMs I’ve tested so far, those are simply the best to my ears. They are not cheap (even if they look and feel cheap), but they’re basically worth every penny. One could describe the SM3 as a beefier, more lush sounding version of the Phonak PFE, as a much improved Shure SE530, as an Etymotic ER-4 killer, and a lot of other things. Be that as it may, to my ears they just do everything right – period. For me, they combine musicality, clarity, dynamics, precision, fun, and most every other positive treat one could think of into one. They make my custom Ultimate Ears UE11 look quite old. Read the EarSonics SM3 review.


Clue?! on February 21, 2011 4:22 AM

You guys should do a review on the Monster Turbine Gold/Copper one day!

kasrhp on February 21, 2011 1:14 PM

Nice roundup. The Panny’s are simply amazing. Love em!

Arashi on February 21, 2011 4:41 PM

The VB’s have changed drastically now, ask Uncle Wilson to send you the new ones.

DRASTIC change.

Martin Sägmüller on February 21, 2011 5:01 PM

In what way did they change?

Arashi on February 22, 2011 12:48 PM

They became significantly more balanced sound frequency wise, and are no longer the bass monsters they once were in quantity.

Arashi on February 22, 2011 12:49 PM

IIRC, they also cured the sibilance issue. Never tried it out extensively, so I can’t really remember what else changed.

Mike on February 22, 2011 2:19 PM

Would be nice, in the future, if prices also would be listed up-front. Unfortunately, something that must be considered for many of us …

Benjamin on February 22, 2011 5:35 PM

Martin, are you testing any new in ear phones right now? Anything that you are planning to add to the IEM comparison spreadsheet? Thanks.

Martin Sägmüller on February 22, 2011 6:29 PM

At the moment I have nothing in my review cue. I should get the new PFE 232 and the new Radius DDM sometimes soon, and I’m rather interested in the new MG7 Atrio, and the 1964-Q – but nothing really conclusive yet. I also should get the new Sony EX1000 as a loaner from a friend sometimes soon, maybe I will write about them.

Benjamin on February 22, 2011 10:29 PM

Humm…a new Atrio sounds interesting to me, since I own the M5 (I bought it based on your review,of course, like all my other IEMs, players and portable amps). I’ll be waiting for any of those reviews.

Martin Sägmüller on February 23, 2011 4:34 PM

Thanks for your confidence in my reviews. :)

Benjamin on February 23, 2011 11:31 PM

You are very welcome; your reviews are valuable information to me when I want to buy my gear, and I’ve never been dissapointed.

Caesar on February 24, 2011 1:20 PM

The Radius DDM is NOT a new IEM, but is a must have if you are into metal, rock or electronica theres nothing out there more coherent for these genres @ 15000 Yen.

Martin Sägmüller on February 24, 2011 2:12 PM

I’m talking about the new Radius HP-TFW21 which will be released in March, not the old TFW11. More info:

confispect on February 25, 2011 2:07 AM

Good thing about this is I own em all. I figured you’d be interested in the 1964 ears.

hi on February 26, 2011 2:19 AM

I am shocked that the quality of the sonics are the only thing discussed. I bought the Phonak’s when they first were reviewed here.

My experiences include two plastic sheaths that curve the wire around your ear to be poorly designed. They fall off constantly. Copper wire is starting to become exposed hurting the back of my ears. Foam inserts disintegrate after 6/7 months.

The sonics are clean of course. I just wish manufactures would create ear phones that can last one year w/o problems. Is that too much to ask?

Martin Sägmüller on February 26, 2011 5:15 PM

No idea what you exactly mean with the bare wire and the ear guides, but why didn’t you send them back under warranty? Phonak should fix them for free.

Foam tips are supposed to be replaced over time, there are none that last forever. Yours are probably rather gross germ factories already, after 6/7 months of use.

Caesar on February 27, 2011 10:35 AM

New Radius DDM?! My bad, im terribly sorry but also terribly happy! Will be looking FORWARD to your review!

lestatar on March 1, 2011 9:16 AM

dfkt, nice concise wrap up. Personally, am delighted to own 50% of the IEMs you list :)

Crash on March 7, 2011 9:24 AM

Their MSRP was around $230, but they can be had for as little as $80 nowadays, if one looks around a bit.

How was this checked? Amazon has them for $350. Anyone that had them for ~$80 was 4-6 months ago and are long-since sold out.
The lowest price I can find (Panasonic RP-HJE900 is $130.

Pretty questionable when you see over a $200 price difference between retailers.

Jay on April 4, 2011 6:35 PM

Bought the Panasonics last november. Paired them with my sansa fuze and I love them. Sadly though 4 months down the road and they are malfunctioning as I only hear sound from one of the earphones as opposed to both. Hopefully they just replace something small and nothing major. I was very lucky to have gotten them for 70 dollars as they were open boxed.

kony on August 19, 2011 9:02 PM

can u find a chance to test the new shure se215?

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