In short, these are the best IEM''s I''ve ever tried, but I''m not 100% convinced that they''re worth $300. I''m not really an audiophile, but I did a lot of research on IEMs (earbuds that sit deep in the ear), and I thoroughly tested a few of my finalists. So, in...
In short, these are the best IEM''s I''ve ever tried, but I''m not 100% convinced that they''re worth $300.
I''m not really an audiophile, but I did a lot of research on IEMs (earbuds that sit deep in the ear), and I thoroughly tested a few of my finalists. So, in this review I''m going to compare the Shure SE215''s ($99), Shure SE425''s ($299), and Etymotic Research ER-4PT''s ($299). My main selection criteria were comfort, sound quality, and ability to block out outside noise (note that for this reason I first tried the Bose QuietComfort 20i''s, but the active noise canceling pressure made my ears hurt).
SHORT SUMMARY: I easily recommend the SE215''s in terms of price-performance; but, if you have more to spend then get the SE425''s. The ER-4PT''s are very crisp, but they have some significant physical downsides.
First of all, I hear that it''s important to choose headphones based on the kind of music that you listen to. So, for my tests, I used ten songs representing my favorite genres of EDM (house/trance), synthpop, and pop rock. Songs included Instant Crush (Daft Punk), Good Morning Kaia (BT), Crush (Dave Matthews Band), and A Sky Full of Stars (Coldplay).
Overall, the SE215''s are excellent, especially for the price. When switching back and forth between them and the 425''s, I could notice a clear difference, but not necessarily a $200 difference. If $200 isn''t a huge deal to you, definitely get the 425''s; but, I think you''d have to be a very discerning listener to really appreciate the increase in quality.
So what''s better about them? Everything is clearer. After listening to the 425''s, the 215''s feel almost like a light blanket was thrown over the speaker -- everything is just a little muddier and the individual instruments are less clear. There''s less separation between the layers. But again, this wasn''t a dramatic difference, so you''d still be very safe with the 215''s (and I understand that $300 is an insane amount of money for most people to spend on earbuds).
What about the ER-4PT''s? They were even clearer, but almost clinically so. It felt a bit like I was in a perfectly empty room listening to every little nuance of the sound, but that sound was less warm than that of the Shures. To be honest, though, this difference was minimal -- in most cases, there wasn''t a hugely noticeable difference between the ER-4PT''s and the SE425''s. I most preferred the Etymotics in songs involving crisp cymbals and complex background noises; but again, it wasn''t a huge difference, and overall I slightly preferred the warmer bass of the Shures.
More importantly, I found two dealbreakers that meant I couldn''t keep the Etymotics: (1) That crisp clarity of sound sadly translated to the wire as well; every time I moved my head I could powerfully feel/hear the wire moving, to the point that it was quite distracting. I believe that this is called microphonics. (2) The plastic piece connecting the wire going to each ear was surprisingly heavy, to the point that its weight very quickly became annoying compared to the other earbuds.
The other nice thing about the Shures is how easily they slip into your ears. Fair warning that it took me a while to figure out how to get them in right -- I was about to return them because it was so confusing at first, but I watched a youtube video and realized you have to actually significantly bend the rubbery part. Once you get the hang of it, it''s extremely fast and easy to fit them in compared to the Etymotics that I really had to work in every time while holding my ear open with my other hand.
So, like I said, I recommend either one of the Shures depending on how much money you can spare on headphones. One other tip, by the way: Be very careful about trying all the different types of tips that are included. I noticed a dramatic difference when I finally found the right set that made a truly tight seal in my ear canal -- the bass became significantly stronger and the overall sound became tighter and cleaner.
Overall, I definitely recommend IEMs over regular earbuds (unless you''re riding a bike or something that demands attention), but keep in mind that none of these will fully block out nearby voices on their own -- I needed to play white noise or music to achieve the true isolation I was looking for.
UPDATE AFTER ANOTHER WEEK:
After going back and forth some more between these and the 215''s, I can safely say that the 425''s are clearly better for anything but casual background listening. For certain songs especially, the 215''s now sound like they''re covered in a blanket when immediately compared to the 425''s -- they''re just much duller, muted, and bass-heavy. I''d still certainly recommend them for the price, but I''ve decided to spend a little more and keep the 425''s.