Below, I’ll introduce you to a few of my favorite audiophile level listening apparatus that you might not have ever heard of. And maybe, just maybe, get you to think about joining me here in audiophile-ville, starting at under $10.
And, I hear some of you saying, “Jason, my earphones are just fine. They get the job done.” But I can no longer agree with you after listening to the stuff below. My favorite $20 earphones from the past now sound like a fuzzball got stuck in my ear and they hiss like a snake. It’s that bad.
Earbuds ($8+) — Stop what you’re doing, cause I’m about to ruin… just kidding, I’m not going to ruin anything with these earbuds. Go pick up a pair.
For $8, I can say without question you can’t find a better pair of earbuds that sound better for the price. Period.
If, for some reason, you don’t believe that how you listen to music matters, throw VE $8 and let them prove it. These are the first earbuds I’ve ever heard with a soundstage, a massive soundstage. Crisp highs, tight mids, and good lows. If you listen to these and you don’t use the word surprising to define how you feel after listening to them, I would be extremely… surprised.
Can’t recommend these enough. Price to quality ratio is off the charts.
Over-the-ear Open Back Headphones ($28+) — Another price to quality off the charts ratio is upon us!
These were the first open back headphones I’ve tried, and while I don’t recommend them if you’re out in public since the sound is able to come through the headphone, unlike closed-back where it stays in your ear, they’re incredible.
If you want to hear what really good headphones sound like and don’t want to drop a ton of money, these are your huckleberry.
Bluetooth Earphones ($46+)—BLU stands for Bluetooth and these are the only wireless buds on our list today.
The first thing you notice when opening up these bad boys is the case. It’s perfect. Small, solid, and holds everything that you need, including three extra pairs of tips and the charging cable. Wearing them, I liked the small silicones the best and they seemed to fit well. If you’re a runner or like wearing your earphones while you’re moving around, these are great. As an iPhone 7+ user, the wireless connection is pivotal and super easy.
Finally, sound-wise, they’ve got some definite bass to ’em. Not over-powering, but bassheads are going to enjoy. Very warm sounding overall. Some will want to fiddle with their equalizer settings but a great lil’ earphone nonetheless.
Are they high on the audiophile side of things? Probably not, but for an active listener who wants something they can use on the road, I definitely recommend them.
Over-the-ear Closed Back Headphones ($129+) — Now we’re getting into the I’m-willing-to-spend-money-on-good-headphones headphones. I love how these are put together and they’re one of the most comfy headphones I’ve had the privilege of putting on. Some may not like the big red and blue side differentiators, but I’m a fan.
And while it may not be that important to many, the case they come with is AMAZING. Form-fit and holds everything perfectly. Just the right amount of squeeze.
And the sound? Super impressed. I would consider these great neutrals. If you don’t want something bass heavy or over-emphasized, these are your jam. Especially since you’re going to spend less than you would on any of the brands you’re probably already familiar with.
Earbuds ($148+) — These are the Monk Plus (above) on steroids. The Monk Plus with all the accoutrements. Across the board, everything is elevated. These beauties come in a solid black box with a travel case, a TON of extra covers, and all the adapters you could ever want. They’re everything you’d expect at this level and more.
When you first pull out the Zen V2 and compare it to the Monk Plus, you may not notice a massive difference. The cable is a little thicker on the Zen V2 and it ends in a 2.5mm plug instead of the standard 3.5. But other than that, they look extremely similar. Then you put them in your ears…
The owner of Venture Electronics, Lee, told me that they need an amp to be driven properly, and he wasn’t wrong. Just plugging these beasts into your phone, or with two different adapters if you have an iPhone 7, doesn’t do them justice. You’ll also notice that if you just plug it into your laptop, you’re going to turn the volume up way higher than you’re used to to power them.
That being said, they’re incredible. You probably won’t get the kind of super deep bass you’d get from headphones, but honestly they’re not that far off. I don’t know how the magicians over at Venture put so much awesome into something so small and unassuming. More often than not, I catch myself reaching for the Zen V2 over my other options.
Noise Canceling Headphones ($299+) — Now we’re playing with fire! These things are beasts, in the good way. If you want something that’s going to block out sound, give an internal amp (so you don’t need to purchase one), and sound phenomenal. Welcome to the Thunderdome!
Also, you’ve got three modes to choose from on these, so I’ll give you a quick run-down of each.
Passive: They’re good headphones and if your batteries die you can still use them and enjoy your tunes. Decent bass and acceptable detail across the board.
Active: BOOM! Everything jumps up when you switch them over. Details climb through the roof, bass gets deeper than college philosophy, and I feel like even the soundstage gets larger. It’s everything you would hope for when you add an amp.
Active/Noise Cancellation: These are the perfect office/travel headphones. If you need to drown out the engine of a plane, the rattle of a bus, or Karen at work you’ve found your cans.
Possibly my favorite pair on the list for the pure fun factor. The second I flipped over the switch to Active/Noise Cancelling, I couldn’t get the smile off my face.
In Ear Monitors ($339+) — These were my first true deep dive into audiophile-ville, so they will always hold a special place in my heart (and honestly, for good reason). These lil’ guys have three drivers inside of them, so not just one speaker but three, and you can hear it.
Much like the SoundMagic above, these are a fun neutral sounding pair. Nothing is overwhelming; just crisp and the right amount of bass for me. I’m definitely not a basshead so these are nice.
Build quality is awesome too. Unless you step on them, they’re going to last you forever. And for me, they were my go-to out-and-about earphones for morning commutes on the train and walking through the city.
I say “were” because I love them so much that I’m selling my set to get a pair of the SE846. These have 4 drivers and some next level tech inside. Will report back.
In Ear Monitors ($1850)— First off, I KNOW… they’re expensive. But, for being an in-ear monitor, they offer a massive soundstage, phenomenal separation between instruments/vocals, and even the most aggressive/busy song is crisp.
When listening to a lot of variations of earphones, headphones, earbuds, etc., they all have different feels. Some are bass heavy; some are more powerful in the highs and/or mids. These are just perfect on every level.
The pair of SE535 above have three drivers, the Encore have Ten. Per. Ear. Which is just insanity. I don’t know how they even got that many in such a compact unit. AND, to top it off, they’re precision machined aluminum, so feel free to step on them (KIDDING) they’re going to last you forever.
These are the earphones you purchase when you’re ready to make your relationship with music official. And trust me, this will be a marriage that lasts a lifetime. A longer review by yours truly can be found here as well.
No matter what you’re looking for, there’s a level in audiophile-ville that will welcome you with open arms. The above recommendations are only a few I’ve visited. Do you have your favorites? What are they? Let us know on Twitter!
**All prices above were found via Google.