Sonny: together with Chris at Totally Dubbed we have created the ultimate earphone guides.
These IEMs need little introducing. They punch so far above their price tag it is unbelievable. This is why my sub £150 pick at just £70. They have great balance along with an abundance of detail and these IEMs never fail to impress me. The biggest technical flaw is its ability to reach deep in the lows and if you’re someone who wants too feel the bass then other options may be better for you. Other than that, I found very little to complain about. HiFiMAN seriously can make great things without slapping on a big price tag. You really do need to try these.
HiFiMAN do it again, they really do know how to make an IEM. This is a very similar balanced signature to their cheaper model, but we are treated to more detail and generally better technical abilities. The bass also managed to reach deeper and have some more feel to it. It also comes in two version with one being single ended and the other being balanced like mine for use with their own DAPs (they have 3 models that feature balanced outputs). If you want a small IEM that has great bandwidth, detail and does not overdo any frequency range then this is my choice for you.
I have been good friends with Chris (Totally Dubbed) now for quite a while and while we have always heard IEMs in a similar way, we have always had different preferences. I personally tend to lean towards a balanced sound signature with a natural decay and a wide soundstage. When I say I like balanced I do mean in the respect that I like pretty close to neutral but I do like just a slight bit extra bass and some rumble down low so it is not extremely anaemic although I do still enjoy the most neutral of earphones. We have given an award for what we feel is the best technical and enjoyable IEM in each price range and then added some others that we feel are honourable mentions. I feel this is a great collaboration of two reviewers and between the two of us I feel like we have covered a lot of ground and if you keep with this, you will end up with a very happy pair of ears.
I met Sonny a little while ago and we immediately clicked in terms of our assessments on certain earphones. What I love about Sonny is the fact that he and I are both honest and non-bias reviewers. We speak our minds, write about it and even make videos about the products. In terms of this collaboration, we thought it would be a great buyer’s guide for people out there looking for non-paid independent advice. The problem I find (and have made videos about in the past) is that often you find reviews out there that a company or a forum has created in order to drive up relations and sales for a certain audio company; in other words paid marketing. We both personally couldn’t care if someone buys or doesn’t buy an earphone; we just like the fact that we can recommend earphones to people across the world.
In terms of my preference in sound, I’m actually quite different from Sonny. I prefer a V shaped sound signature, with a lot of emphasis on the low end tones. With that said, I used to be an extreme basshead, but ever since I started owning and reviewing more BA earphones, I moved away from being an extreme basshead to someone who really appreciates mids. Thus something with a low end sub-bass rumble, mid-bass slam, decent mid range and excellent highs is my go-to earphone.
What’s interesting is that Sonny and I have both the same analysis when it comes to earphones, but we have our own sonic preferences thus leading us in owning completely different earphones.
I hope this guide shows you two ends of the spectrum and furthermore helps you with analysing your current earphones (if it is on the list or has been reviewed) and furthermore helps you towards a potential future purchase. I should mention that we have the earphones that we recommend under our respective names and furthermore have in bold and with a letter (R), our personal favourites within the respective ranges. We also added US prices, but this was simply a conversion rate from the UK prices. As we’re both UK / EU reviewers are prices are based from our area. Thus other parts of the world might find the respective earphones at a more expensive or cheaper rate. We thus added USD simply as a reference for American readers.
On another we would like to thank Kai (Chris’ website designer) for making us the awesome badges for this guide. Do check out his great website!
We found the pictures to compliment on Google.
Sound & Frequencies:
-Sub-bass: Bass rumble, in full-blown subwoofers this is the bass that makes your desk rumble
-Mid-bass: Bass slam. The best way to describe it would be the bass that comes from a drummer on stage.
-Mids: The mid range frequency, the “in-between” of the low and high frequencies. This is everything from a range of instruments and vocals and can sometimes be split up again into the lower midrange that transits off of the bass and contains most male vocals and the higher mids that contain most female vocals and if boosted correctly can add a sense of clarity.
-Highs: The sparkle in your music (cymbals and high hats for example) comes from highs. The better the highs are, the more sparkle you’ll have. Sometimes you might be treated with too much high end frequencies, thus leading to sibilance. Also, a good extension of the highs can potentially lead to an airy sound.
-Soundstage: The performance of an earphone, if it were to be compared to speakers in a room and if the sound feels like it is in your head or managed to get out of your headspace. A wide soundstage will give you a feeling of being at a concert, whilst a very narrow soundstage will make it seem like the speakers are made for you, but with that you’ll lose the depth that is sometimes sought after in certain songs.
-Sibilance: The “hiss” noise or prolonged “Ss” found in certain earphones that have a spike at a certain high frequency. Sibilance isn’t exactly a bad thing, but when there’s too much of it, it becomes irritating and hard to enjoy your music.
-DD earphones: Dynamic Driver earphones. Most earphones have DD drivers as they are cheaper to manufacture and produce the most bass due to them “moving air” with their diaphragms. DD earphones are generally known to be bass orientated and have a V shaped sound signature. They tend to have very impressive extension in both ends of the frequency spectrum.
-BA earphones: Balanced Armature earphones. BA drivers are used by more high-end companies to produce excellent mid and high range frequencies at extreme precision. The main problem with BA earphones is that they generally don’t produce good low end frequencies due to their size and the lack of air movement. These tend to have very delicate details and more neutral sound signatures but struggle with frequency extension. Companies often use multiple BA drivers to help remedy this.
-Hybrid earphones: A mix of any number of both dynamic and BA drivers.
-IEM: In-Ear-Monitor (also referred to as earphones).
-Over-the-Ear: This is when you loop the earphone’s wire over your ear. Most high-end companies have this design by default; however some wear their earphones like this to avoid microphonics (where the earphone was initially made to be used straight down).
-Straight down: Unlike the above, the earphone is worn normally and thus the wire that runs from the earphones goes straight down your ear.
-Microphonics: This is also known as cable noise. It’s when the cable rubs against your clothing and thus creates noise that resonates straight into your earphone, where it can be heard by your ear. It isn’t ever pleasant and usually comes down to the wire construction.
-Burn-in: The process of letting your earphone drivers adapt to the sound and start producing sound for the first time in their lives. A lot of people don’t believe in burn-in; however some people like us feel that it affects the sound ever so slightly.