Playback Editor’s Choice: Five Great Earphones Under $100

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Categories:
Earphones and in-ear monitors
|
Products:
Audio-Technica ATH-ANC23 Noise Cancelling In-Ear Headphones,
Klipsch Image S4i,
Koss KDX300,
Nuforce NE-770X,
Skullcandy Titan,
Yurtopia Yurbuds
Playback Editor’s Choice: Five Great Earphones Under $100

Following the recent release of the Playback Guide to Earphones & Custom-Fit In-Ear Monitors, some readers wrote to ask, “Which earphones would you buy in the sub-$100 price range?”

I suppose this is a fair question to ask, though I’ve traditionally been reluctant to reveal what my personal choices would be, given that I believe earphone selection is—or ideally should be—a personal choice that you make on your own.

Still, I have been fortunate enough to hear a very wide range of the models on the market, so that I may be able to provide a bit of perspective that can help listeners sort through the perhaps bewildering array of options available to them.

With that thought in mind, and with the usual caveat that “your mileage may vary,” let me share with you my top five Playback Editor’s Choice earphone picks in the sub-$100 class (along with one “honorable mention” entry for you to consider).

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Skullcandy Titans: $39.95

 

Reasons to Choose Them:

•Comfortable and affordable.
•Smooth and generally neutral sound with a touch of added mid-bass warmth. Though not Skullcandy’s most costly earphone, the Titan is without a doubt one of the firm’s best-sounding models.
•Easy to find in local stores, which will appeal to buyers who prefer not to shop online. Skullcandy ‘phones are carried by many different big-box retailers nationwide.
•Cool warranty provides discounts for users who accidentally destroy their Titans when listening while engaged in various extreme sports activities.

Reasons to Look Further:

•Somewhat fragile: Past experience with the Titan suggests that signal cables are prone to accidental damage.
•Sound quality is good, but not quite as focused or refined as the class leaders.

NuForce NE-700X: $65 & NE-700M: $75

 

Reasons to Choose Them:

•Arguably the best all-around choice for audiophiles on a budget, with particular appeal for those who prize sonic accuracy and finesse (these ‘phones could very nearly pass as models from the next price class up).
•Essentially, these are more neutrally and accurately voiced versions of NuForce’s acknowledged budget classic: the NE-7M earphone/headset.
•Available either as an earphone (NE-700X) or as a combo earphone/headset (NE-700M).
•Either way, a dynamite value.
•Robust build quality (solid metal earpiece housings) with excellent fit and finishes.

Reasons to Look Further:

•Accuracy may not be what you’re after; some listeners might wish for a dab of bass enrichment (which, by the way, NuForce’s original NE-7M provides).

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC 23: $99.95

Reasons to Choose Them:

•Active noise-cancellation features for under $100 make the ATH-ANC23 a good choice for those who consistently listen in noisy environments.
•Sound offers good natural warmth, smoothness, and bass weight.
•Easy to use.

Reasons to Look Further:

•Sound lacks treble brilliance and midrange refinement relative to the best in this class.
•If you don’t really need/want active noise cancellation features, you may be able to get better sound for less.

Klipsch Image S4i: $99.95

Reasons to Choose Them:

•The Image S4i channels much of the overall sonic “vibe” of Klipsch’s flagship Image X10i, but at a significantly lower price point. Offers a desirable quality of midrange openness—always a Klipsch hallmark.
•Offers headset functionality and Apple-compatible 3-button remote control.
•Klipsch’s patented oval cross-section eartips offers an incredibly comfortable fit. Even listeners who typically dislike most other earphones tend to find the Klipsch ‘phones easy to fit and comfortable to wear.

Reasons to Look Further:

•Sound quality, though good, may seem a bit too “midrange-forward” for some tastes. Could use a bit more bass weight, too.

Koss KDX300 Gold: $99.99

Reasons to Choose Them:

•Track record: Koss has been making high-quality headphones and earphones since before most of us were born.
•Simple, solid construction.
•Sound is generally clear and neutral, but with an added touch of mid-bass warmth that gives the Golds an easygoing quality that can compensate for some of the iPod’s sonic “rough edges”).

Reasons to Look Further:

•Sound might be too easygoing for its own good.
•Some Playback staffers find the brighter and more vivid-sounding Koss KDX200 Silver to be the more appealing model (the Silver costs less, too).

Honorable Mention: Yurtopia Yurbuds: $30 (earphones), $20 (adapters for stock earbuds)

Reasons to Consider Buying:

•Inexpensive: offered either as ready-to-use earphones or as adapters that slip over standard Apple-type earbuds.
•Available in a wide range of sizes for a semi-customized fit.
•Once properly fitted, the Yurbuds essentially “lock” into your outer ears and are difficult to jostle loose. Developed by a guy who runs marathons for fun, these are a good choice for active athlete/listeners.
•Based on stock earbuds, but offer significant sonic improvements.

Reasons to Look Further:

•The “lock-tight” fit isn’t for everyone.
•Sound quality is better than stock earbuds, but falls well short of the best available in the sub-$100 class.

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You can read the full reviews of these and other earphones in the Playback Guide to Earphones & Custom-Fit In-Ear Monitors. Download for free here.

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