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Feb 8, 2011

More on making travel fun with cool headphones

In-Ear Monitors (IEMs) / Portable Headphones
Great information from Head-fi.org about some cool in-ear headphones to use while traveling. My earlier post describes great and fun benefits of having one of these on a trip - Noise canceling headphones - life saver for travelers?
  • JH Audio JH16 Pro. Jerry Harvey (the "JH" in JH Audio) is the man who pretty much invented the custom IEM segment. After leaving Ultimate Ears, he set out to improve on all his previous designs via JH Audio, and he did it, forcing JH Audio's competitors to elevate their games, too. In 2009, the JH13 Pro set our Head-Fi world on fire, with its excellent soundstaging, and an ability to convey detail and treble extension like no IEM before it. Not surprisingly, the JH13 Pro continues to be one of the best-selling custom IEMs available. The JH16 Pro might reasonably be described as similar to the JH13 Pro, but with subwoofers--the low-bass on the JH16 Pro is extremely detailed, yet thunderous. With its boosted bass, the JH16 Pro remains my top recommendation for money-no-object IEMs for frequent travelers. The 6-drivers-per side JH13 Pro starts at $1099.00, and the 8-drivers-per-side JH16 Pro at $1149.00.
  • Ultimate Ears In-Ear Reference Monitor. Designed in conjunction with Capitol Studios, the In-Ear Reference Monitor was designed to have a flat curve--to be neutral--to be used as a studio reference monitor. I found this piece to be very resolving, and currently one of my favorites to turn to when evaluating gear further up the chain, as well as for listening for pleasure. As it was designed to be, I find the In-Ear Reference Monitor virtually uncolored, which brings with it its own flavor of fun. As might be expected from something intended to be used as a studio reference monitor, the UE In-Ear Reference Monitor's imaging is wide for an IEM, yet very precise. The UE In-Ear Reference Monitor starts at $999.00, and I suspect it will be one of the most popular custom IEMs in the coming year.
  • Westone ES5. It might be fairly said that Westone was last to the custom IEM game with what I'll call a latest-generation piece, but their effort paid off. The ES5 was introduced at CanJam 2010 in Chicago, and it is now starting to make big waves in the rarified world of bespoke IEMs. More on the neutral side--though not as dead-flat as the UE In-Ear Reference Monitor--the ES5 is highly resolving, and an amazing all-'rounder. I also find Westone's heat-activated tips (that soften at body temperature) makes the ES5 the most comfortable custom IEM I've yet worn (not to mention the most isolating custom I've yet worn). The Westone ES5 starts at $900.00.
  • Westone 1. Of all the IEMs I've used (universal-fit and custom), none can match the Westone universals for comfort while laying one's head down, as the earpiece bodies of all the Westone univerals I've used sit deeper than flush with the ear. And every Westone universal I've heard so far also sounds exceedingly good at its price point, so, even if your budget is higher than the Westone 1's price, look at the other Westone universal-fit IEMs. MSRP $199.99.
  • Monster Cable Turbine Pro (Copper Edition). This IEM (often referred to simply as "The Copper" in our forums) is so far the best sounding headphone from Monster Cable, to my ears. It is also among my favorite of the vast universal-fit IEM heap. Fun and resolving is how I'd describe The Copper--I enjoy it a lot. Easy to drive, and scales up with good gear. MSRP $399.95.
  • Bowers & Wilkins P5. B&W's first headphone, the P5 is the only over-ear headphone I've ever carried with me pretty much everywhere. With a sound signature tailored for mobile use (as opposed to straight reference listening), very good passive noise isolation, and one of the most durable builds I've yet seen in a portable headphone, the P5 is almost perfect in its execution for what it was designed for--being used on-the-go. With its included microphone/control cable, it can be used as a headset with an iPhone, too (and will control iPhones and the later-generation iPods). I'll be posting a review of the P5 this coming weekend on Head-Fi. MSRP $299.95.
  • SHURE SE425. SHURE's SE425 is their latest-generation two-driver-per-side universal-fit IEM. The SE425 has all the richness and detail SHURE has become known for, and it's not surprising that the SE425 is a popular choice for pro audio applications. The new 360-degree rotating cable plugs on the SE425 make for a more comfortable, tangle-free cable, compared to most other IEMs I've used. The durable SHURE "olive" foam tips make the SE425 very comfortable and very isolating. MSRP $349.99.
  • HiFiMAN RE-262. This is the best of the RE family of earphones so far, with more extended bass and a more balanced output, to my ears, than its predecessor. I've found the RE262 to be a great match for the HiFiMAN digital players (HM-601/602 and HM-801). It's also matches up well with my portable rigs with dedicated amps, and also with the VentureCraft GO-DAP (see below). With its 150-ohm impedance, the RE-262 is best suited for use with these dedicated amps, so keep that in mind. The RE-262 is so new I can't yet find it on the Head-Direct website. I believe MSRP will be around $249.00.
  • Sennheiser PMX 680 Sports. Yes, it sounds good--so do a lot of other headphones by Sennheiser. But unlike my other headphones, I sweat all over my PMX 680 Sports, and then rinse it under running water. It doesn't fall off--or even budge--when I exercise, and yet it's very comfortable. For those who wear their iPods in an armband while exercising, the two-part cable can be quickly shortened to the perfect length for that. The styling by adidas is very cool. The Sennheiser PMX680 Sports is my #1 recommendation for exercise headphones. MSRP $79.95.
  • Etymotic MC5. I heard the MC5 at at CanJam 2010 (Chicago), and was mightily impressed. Etymotic calls the MC5 "The world's most accurate noise-isolating earphones under $100." I was surprised to hear a bit more bass emphasis than I might expect from something bearing the Etymotic name, but I found it done well, and considered it a positive MC5 trait. Etymotic's claim for the MC5 is a bold one, but the MC5 certainly does sound exceptionally good for $79.00.

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