Why You Can't Get Good Earbuds for Under $100

Rob Williams

Staff member
From our front-page news:
You know what really grinds my gears? When someone claims that music is their life, but refuse to purchase a good pair of earbuds or headphones, and instead stick to the free pair that came with their MP3 player. If you are truly passionate about music, and listen to it often, then it makes all the sense in the world to care just as much about the audio quality as the music itself.

I'm no audiophile, and I've made that clear in the past, but I do appreciate clean sound, and it's for that reason that I believe quality equipment makes the music-listening experience a whole lot better. Upgrading to a worthwhile set of speakers, headphones or earbuds, can pretty-much prove the difference they can make. Music becomes more accurate, subtle tones become more noticeable and even the vocals become richer and more in-your-face.

That said, I've always hated earbuds and have found them entirely useless. I know I'm alone here, and I admit that I haven't tried a truly high-end pair, but I'd like to soon after reading an article posted last week at Gizmodo. My problem with earbuds is this... their clarity and total lack of bass. As this article points out, though, higher-end earbuds do actually improve on the lower-end ones, as they feature more than one driver, allowing for finer and more accurate audio, and far improved bass.

Just how high can you go? Well believe it or not, Shure offers a pair of $500 earbuds, called the SE530, while Ultimate Ears offers their UE-11 Pro's for, wait for it... $1,150. That pair in particular offers a staggering four drivers in each ear, which is why the price is so high. It'd be an interesting feat (and needless) to have 10 drivers in a pair of headphones, but four in a bud so small is undeniably impressive. If you ask Shure and true audiophiles where the "sweet-spot" for earbuds is, many will say that at $100, the men begin to get separated from the boys. Under $100, it seems that most of what's focused on is the style, and not the audio design.


The law of diminishing returns tends to kick in above that point: The difference between $300 set of buds and a $400 pair is nowhere near the jump from $20 to $100. Even smaller is the difference in models between generations. The best value on the market might be a previous-gen version of Shure's 500 series buds at a cut rate ($290), but if you can find $100 earbuds for 70 bucks, it's even better.

Source: Gizmodo


The best sound quality I've found is from Open Dynamic headphones.

For earbuds, it's all about fit and preference. I bought my brother some Shure SCL4's and he hated them. As he was using them to exercise, he preferred $25 V-Moda with enhanced bass.

I've found Nuforce NE-8 to be pretty great for their price point (~$70). Maybe even a sweet spot for audiophiles not wanting to risk their $500 buds for outdoor use.

Personally, I can't justify spending more than $100 for buds.

Rob Williams

Staff member
For earbuds, I'm kind of the same. $100 would be the max. Two years ago, I went to a trade show and Shure was showing off new earbuds that cost just that... $100. Granted, I was in a busy room, but what I did hear just wasn't impressive. At all. I'm a stickler for quality, though. Sadly, I even wear my Ultrasone's when working out. I'd rather hear quality music, not tin music.


Actually, for less than $80 I found a pair that rivals most earbuds I've ever listened to. The Klipsch Image S4 does not have any inferiority issues due to its price point. In my opinion, it deserves your attention...and perhaps a reversal of the subjective 'common sense' that this thread is built upon. There will always be a sonic instrument that surpasses our senses, but why pay for that?