In-Ear monitors (IEMs), in-ear headphones or earphones are small headphones that are inserted into the ear canal. IEMs offer the best isolation from outside noise even when compared to noise-canceling headphones. Because of this, they are ideal for travelers and people who wish to enjoy their music in loud places. When properly designed, the sound quality of in-ear monitors can rival even the best of full-sized headphones. With the number of IEMs in the market, choosing a pair you’ll love can be a daunting task. Depending on your budget, we’re going to present the best in-ear monitors available.
Our list is not exhaustive and will change from time to time to feature new IEMs in the market.
|Shure SE846||Balanced Armature||9 ohms||114 dB||MMCX|
|BGVP DM6||Balanced Armature||20 ohms||122 dB||MMCX|
|KZ AS10||Balanced Armature||14 ohms||105 dB||2-Pin|
|Shure SE215||Dynamic||20 ohms||107 dB||MMCX|
|Etymotic ER4XR||Balanced Armature||45 ohms||98 dB||MMCX|
|Audeze iSINE 10||Planar Magnetic||16 ohms||110 dB||2-Pin|
|FiiO FH5||Hybrid||19 ohms||112 dB||MMCX|
|Campfire Audio Andromeda||Balanced Armature||12.8 ohms||115 dB||MMCX|
|SIMGOT EM2||Hybrid||15 ohms||101 dB||2-Pin|
|Audio-Technica ATH-E40||Dynamic||12 ohms||107 dB||A2DC|
1. Shure SE846 – Our Best IEM
Headphone Driver: Balanced Armature
Impedance: 9 ohms
Sensitivity: 114 dB
What We Like: Amazing sound ( Mids and Lows are amazing ), good isolation,
What We Don’t: Treble extension
Shure is an old player in the universal IEM game. Like every industry leader, Shure has had its ups and downs. However, every iteration has made their products even better. While their KSE line features high-end electrostatic IEMs, the SE series is characterized by cheap and budget-friendly IEMs. Today we review the Shure SE846, a flagship model from Shure.
The Shure SE846 comes in a nice premium package. The box is well sealed with a black wrapper that features the picture of the SE846. Breaking, the wrapper reveals a grey box with a metallic Shure logo lettering on the front side. Inside the box, you get an instruction manual and pelican case that houses a cleaning cloth, the IEMs, two cables, an airplane adapter, a cable clip, a damping adapter, a 6.35 to 3.5 m adapter, a hard-shell carrying case, and lastly, a selection of ear tips.
The SE846 has a transparent plastic shell that shows the inner workings, which improves the overall aesthetic of the IEM and adds a unique character to the design language. In terms of design, the SE846 looks like most of the IEMs in the Shure SE line but more refined. It is solid and also durable. The nozzle is made of metal and is screwed to the IEM’s casing. Using the provided tool for unscrewing the collar, one can remove the nozzle and change the acoustic filter tube.
The comfort on the Shure SE846 is good. The shape makes it comfortable for the IEM to sit perfectly without any trouble. Though the SE846 is bulkier and has a larger body than the low priced SE series IEM, it should fit for most people, plus its ergonomics are really good. Using the provided stock tips that came with the IEM, isolation is sublime.
The sound reproduction of the SE846 depends on a variety of factors, including the type of ear tips used, and the seal the IEM creates with your ear. For this portion of the review, we use the default (blue) filters.
Starting with the bass, it is one of the best coming out of a Balanced Armature IEM. It is tight, deep, and very well controlled. The bass response makes it sound like a perfect dynamic driver. The mids come out effortless and are lush sounding. If you love vocals, I don’t see how you would dislike the SE846. Vocals are realistic, natural, smooth, well separated with good details. The treble, however, was a bit of a letdown. It is present and detailed, but not well extended. According to other user reviews, taking out the filters gives a sparkling treble, which some of you might appreciate. However, because we are yet to try this, We would not recommend this IEM to people who love their treble bright and twinkly.
Other than the treble part, the Shure SE846 is a great sounding IEM. We do love the bass and midrange. The build is great, and the IEM is comfortable. Sound isolation is top.
2. BGVP DM6 – Offers Satisfaction for a Value
Headphone Driver: Balanced Armature driver
Impedance: 20 ohms
What We Like: Good built quality. Very comfortable, excellent sound isolation, Ergonomic
What We Don’t: Recessed midrange
We find more and more people (including us at sound gear lab) getting more interested in Chi-Fi as the years pass. Chi-Fi offerings have grown to offer a sound signature we already know and love. They are getting better and better bypassing our previously known ear monitor brands that are also costlier. The BGVP is a Chinese brand, and they are well known for their Sidy IEM offerings. The DM6 was recently released, but does it live up to the hype it has received? It does, so let us take a closer look.
The BGVP DM6 comes in a brown box that features the company’s name and logo. Inside the box, the DM6’s earpieces sit nestled within a foam insert. Underneath the foam insert, the cable is tucked inside a ziplock bag along with an instruction manual and a QC pass card. A second smaller box contains the rest of the accessories, which include a silver plated MMCX cable, Black and Blue silicone ear tips (s/m/l), form tips (m), and a cleaning tool.
The DM6 is made out of acrylic resin. Unlike most IEMs which are molded, it is 3D printed, making it feel phenomenal and less prone to imperfections or dents. The design features a Trishell structure fused with a faceplate. The complete piece is perfectly fused, such that it seems like a single acrylic piece. The faceplate of our BGVP DM6 is simple, but there are several designs with extravagant customized designs available. The nozzle is well designed and slightly angled with lips to help hold the ear tips. The mesh filter is, however, missing, so, better use the brush provided to clean the DM6 after using it. The IEM utilizes a gold-plated MMCX connection, so replacing it will be easy enough in case you find it troublesome.
It is important also to note that you can get the DM6 as a CIEM by sending your ear impressions. You can also choose your preferred faceplate color, material, or even a custom art.
From what we hear, BGVP used Siemens’ image database to come up with a shape that is universal as possible. The fit of the BGVP DM6 in medium ears is like a glove. Once they sit in there, they rarely hurt or move. Their ergonomic design gives them a similar fit compared to Custom IEMs, making it enjoyable for when using the IEM for long periods. For small-eared folks, the DM6 will not fit, so better look elsewhere. If you have a normal outer ear, the DM6 is likely to be very comfortable. Like CIEMs, the design of the DM6 makes them very good at blocking out a lot of noise. This makes them a great traveling companion on public transport or other noisy areas.
The BGVP DM6 has a V-shaped/U-shaped sound signature, with an emphasis on the bass and treble frequencies. The bass, for a balanced armature based IEM, is good and is definitely above average. The mid-bass is punchy and makes the sound more live and realistic. The midrange of the BM6 is slightly recessed, which makes vocals at times feel far back in the mix. This is especially noticeable with male vocals. The treble extends fairly well, with the upper and lower regions having a good balance. There is no noticeable sibilance or harshness in the overall sound reproduction.
The DM6 is a solid performer. For the price, and if you can deal with the slightly recessed midrange, the DM6 can deliver audiophile-grade sound with a few flaws. For EDM or Rock music genres, the DM6 comes as valuable consideration. Also, the build quality and craftsmanship involved in making this IEM is good, especially for the price.
3. KZ AS10 – Cheap In-Ear Monitor
Headphone Driver: Balanced Armature
Impedance: 14 ohms
Sensitivity: 105 dB
What We Like: Price, Good bass, Good overall sound, especially in this price bracket,
What We Don’t: No carrying case, The cable tangles
Knowledge Zenith (KZ) has seen massive growth in the market lately. This is partly due to the number of IEMs they are releasing each year and their aggressive marketing strategy. Their products are straight-up good and worthy of your attention. Since their first hybrid IEM, the ZST, KZ has upped their game and delved deeper into the hybrid market. The KZ AS10, however, is their first pure balanced armature model and features five drivers in each ear monitor.
The KZ AS10 comes in a simple rectangular black box. It is an excellent package, functional, and compact. Opening the box, the IEM is presented on top in a cut-out foam, while the included accessories feature at the bottom. The package consists of the cables, a selection of ear tips (3 pairs, S, M, L), a warranty card, and a user manual. If ordering through amazon, you can either select a stock cable with a mic or one without. The package, however, lacks a carrying bag or case.
The AS10 is built entirely out of plastic. The IEM features a transparent faceplate that allows you to see the inner components. The build quality is good, though not as premium as the ZSA or ZS6 metallic shell budget alternatives. The nozzle has the right size, and though it seems to lack a filter, you can rest assured it is there. The nozzle also lacks rings for holding the tips on and instead has small protrusions that work just as well. The IEMs utilize the 2-Pin connector and executes it well.
With a medium-large sized shape, the KZ AS10 is quite comfortable, and isolation is top. Unless you have smaller ears, this IEM should be comfortable even when worn for long hours. The provided tips are minimal but work just fine for what you are paying. The wide shape of the IEM and deep nozzle insertion guarantee the best noise isolation for users. However, there is a single small vent that helps to relieve pressure but also lets in noise. Without music playing, you can hear sounds faintly. The good thing is once the music is on, the outside sounds completely drown.
Next, the sound quality.
Overall, the KZ AS10 has a warm, slightly V-shaped sound. The bass reproduction is excellent and very powerful and precise. This all comes from a BA driver that works surprisingly very well. It is accurate and plays with quantity and quality. Given the V-shaped signature, it is no surprise the mid-range is slightly recessed. Listening to music, you can hear the mids lie behind the other sounds — however, vocals, both male and female, sound natural, full-bodied, and clear. The treble is smooth, airy, and overall articulates cymbals and high-hats with precision.
While you might have to buy a carrying case or another set of ear tips, the KZ AS10 proves it is a worthy competition in this price segment or even more. The included cable is a tangle mess, and I would recommend trying different cables. As for the sound, the IEM performed well. A strong bass, smooth treble, and natural reproduction of the midrange all result in an experience that will welcome new audio enthusiasts in the KZ kingdom.
4. Shure SE215 – A Well-Rounded IEM
Headphone Driver: Dynamic
Impedance: 20 ohms
Sensitivity: 107 dB
What We Like: Excellent noise isolation, sturdy build, good comfort
What We Don’t: Treble could be better
The Shure SE215 is one of the most affordable IEMs by Shure. Over the years, the SE215 has grown into popularity and is often recommended as an entry-level IEM. How does the SE215 perform? Let’s get into that below.
The Shure SE215 comes in a straightforward package. It is just a small box holding the IEM, which can be seen through the clear plastic of the package. It is nothing special but does an excellent job of keeping everything securely in place. Accessories included are a cleaning tool, a small IEM carrying pouch, and lastly, foam and silicone tips (S, M, L).
The Shure SE215 features a plastic build. They are sturdy, and we admit they can take a beating. These should last years, especially if you take care of them. The design of the SE215 is identical to the higher-end models like the SE315 and SE425. The clear plastic design also gives it a high-end premium feel. It is pretty cool to look and see how the circuitry is done. The IEM uses an MMCX connector. Though a wireless version of the SE215 is on the market, one can upgrade to wireless by switching to an aftermarket Bluetooth cable by Shure. The Shure RMCE-BT2 is available is a good choice.
Apart from the solid build quality, the comfort of the SE215 is also exceptional. The SE215 are very ergonomic and cause no irritation or ear pressure even when worn for long hours. The IEM is also lighter, and the size is small, which adds to the comfort and fit. Isolation is also excellent. Using the supplied ear tips should offer enough isolation for most people. These should make a perfect portable IEM companion, especially in noisy public areas.
How does it sound?
With the Shure SE215, you can expect a thumping bass with good impact. The bass is not well controlled and bleeds into the mids. However, because the mids are more forward, they are never masked. The midrange is the highlight of the SE215. It is forward and detailed. It is good with vocals, guitars, and other string instruments. The treble is laid-back and lacks a certain brightness, which makes cymbals and other instruments sound slightly distant.
The build, comfort, and fit of the Shure SE215 are good. At this price range, we bet you can find a good IEM with better sound quality. However, the build quality, good isolation, overall design, and a near good sound signature make the Shure SE215 a well rounded IEM.
Headphone Driver: Balanced Armature
Impedance: 45 ohm
Sensitivity: 98 dB
6. Audeze iSINE 10 – World’s First Planar Magnetic IEM
Headphone Driver: Planar Magnetic driver
Impedance: 16 ohms
Sensitivity: 110 dB
What We Like: The best sound stage in an IEM, Open Design,
What We Don’t: Fit is a little hard to achieve at first
With in-ear monitors growing into popularity, companies are bringing out their top of the line IEMs. Most in-ear monitors usually feature dynamic or balanced armature drivers. Planar magnetic drivers used in IEMs are not something you have seen before. However, Audeze, being one of the leaders of planar magnetic technology, decided to make one. As of today, Audeze has four planar magnetic drivers IEMs in the market. These are the iSINE 10, 20, LCDi3, and LCDi4.
The iSINE 10 comes in a very professional package. Opening it, the IEM lies peacefully inside a cut out the foam. Below the IEM, you have a nylon travel case, which can be used to store the iSINE 10. Other accessories included in the package are ear tips (7 pairs S/M/L), two ear hook pairs, a USB with a user guide and warranty, cable (depends), and certificate of authenticity. Depending on your purchase, you can either get a standard cable or Cipher lighting + standard cable.
The hexagon design of the iSINE 10 or other IEMs in the iSINE series is not for everyone. Some people might love them, while others might find it hideous. However, they look pretty badass and are a head-turner IEM. The build is plastic and somehow feels flimsy due to its weight. Because of the materials, you should be careful not to sit or drop them accidentally.
The body of the iSINE 10 is designed to sit outside the ear. The ear hooks keep the IEM in place while the ear tip goes into the ear canal. Being an open-back IEM, the iSINE 10 will leak in sound, thus interfering with the sound quality. These are designed for use around the house or in the office where it is quiet, and it does not matter if music leaks out.
The first time you try the iSINE 10, the fit is a little awkward. The IEM feels like they might fall off. Despite this, they are very secure. The ear hooks and ear tips provided by Audeze work well; however, it will take some time to get a good fit. The comfort of the iSINE 10 is decent, and they can be worn for long sessions without any fatigue. They are also very light compared to other IEMs, which is impressive for a planar magnetic IEM.
Isolation and leakage are not the best abilities of the iSINE 10. Though the open design makes the iSINE 10 sound good, the downside is the isolation and leakage is much like open-back headphones.
The first thing to love about the iSINE 10 is the soundstage. It is spacious, and the instrument separation and imaging is really good. The bass is present but not the best or the punchiest. Getting a good fit improves the low-end, and you can feel the sub-bass come alive. The midrange is slightly forward, and the vocals are a little recessed. The treble is well extended and surprisingly decent.
This is the first planar magnetic IEM. It is a great start by Audeze. However, the overall design and build quality need a lot of improvement. The comfort is good, and you can use the IEM for long sessions without any fatigue. On the sound quality, the midrange needs improvement. Other than that, the iSINE 10 is a great IEM for home listening
7. FiiO FH5
Headphone Driver: Hybrid driver
Impedance: 19 ohms
What We Like: Great build quality, comfortable, good accessory and tip selection, the likable sound signature
What We Don’t: Average noise isolation
The last few years have seen FiiO gain so much momentum in the audio world. For budget audiophiles and audio enthusiasts, quality and reasonably priced products offerings have come as an advantage. Since they joined the earphone market in 2015 with the release of EX1, FiiO has never held back. The coming years saw them launch the F series, FA series, and now the FH series. Today we check out the FiiO FH5 from the FH series.
If you’ve bought or seen most FiiO flagship models, you must be well versed with the black box design. The FiiO FH5 also comes in a black box, and it is quite big. However, forget the big black box; what counts is what’s inside the box. Inside, the FH5 sits in a cutout foam, behind the IEM, you get the foam and silicone ear tips. All the ear tips (12 pairs) are labeled according to their corresponding sizes and sound effect. Also included is a pelican case, a small carrying pouch, and a small cleaning brush.
The design and build of the FH5 is nothing short of impressive. Even when compared to other FiiO offerings, the FH5 stands out with a unique and has a sturdy build quality. Unlike the traditional resin found on CIEMs and other IEMs, the FH5 is made out of metal (aluminum-magnesium alloy), which gives the earbud a premium feel. FiiO employs a TRISHELL structural design that provides the IEM with a gold accent finish and also enhances the rigidity of the FH5. The faceplate (front cover) on the FiiO FH5 not only adds beauty to the IEM, but according to FiiO, it also reduces distortion and resonance.
On the rear side, the IEMs feature the right and left markings. The nozzle is a little shorter and features a metal grill that will keep dust or earwax out. On top, golden plated MMCX connectors are present. A red ring is used on the right, while the left monitor spots a blue ring.
The shape of the FH5 makes it comfortable to wear. The monitors are a little bigger, and those with small ears might find them a bit overwhelming. The tips selection provided by FiiO are top-notch. Both silicone and foam tips are great. However, you should take note of the sonic differences to expect with each ear tip. However, because of a shallow nozzle, isolation of the FH5 is below average, and you can still hear outside noise. So these are not reliable for your daily commute. But, we have read that using Symbio ear tips by MandarinEs will provide enough isolation.
Overall, the FH5 features a balanced sound signature. Starting with the bass, it is deep and reasonably detailed. With 10mm dynamic drivers that handle the low frequencies, the bass is also nicely controlled and comes out as punchy, especially with songs that have a significant bass impact. The midrange is slightly recessed, giving the FH5 a slightly warm sound signature. The treble comes out smoothly, lively with a nice level of detail.
The FiiO FH5 is a well-done IEM. They are comfortable, and the build quality is premium. While we could not find major deal breakers with the FH5, a slightly longer nozzle would have been better in creating a better seal and fit. All in all, the FH5 brings a lot of good offerings on the table.
Headphone Driver: Balanced Armature
Impedance: 12.8 ohms
Sensitivity: 115 dB
What We Like: Balanced sound quality, great build, No apparent weaknesses in the lows, mids, or highs.
What We Don’t: Fit, comfort, and isolation depend on the tips.
From building high-end audio cables, Audio Line Out (ALO), in 2015, announced the creation of another branch that would be responsible for making IEMs. Campfire Audio (CA) was born. Campfire Audio has several beautifully designed IEMs. From the single BA Orion, the dual BA Nova, single DD Beryllium Lyra driver, and the four BA Jupiter. Their latest addition is the 5-driver Andromeda.
When it comes to packaging, Campfire Audio follows the same astronomical styled theme. One thing to love about the package is the minimalistic design. The box, though not the sturdiest, is compact and fits everything. Opening the box uncovers the campfire audio carrying case. Underneath the carrying case, you get the ear tips (9 pairs), a cleaning brush, the Andromedas, and a Campfire Audio lapel pin.
Beyond the accessories, the build of the Campfire Audio Andromeda is something to marvel at the first time you get them out of the case. The IEM housings are CNC’ed out of aluminum, which gives them a premium and sturdy-feeling. The green on the monitors is an anodized finish, and as a result, the green color of the Andromedas will stay like that for the duration of the IEM’s life. The nozzles are also made of metal and feature three bored holes. The MMCX connectors seem very solid. The connectors, both on the cable and IEMs, are made out of beryllium copper alloy, which gives a snappy and secure joint.
With ergonomics, the Andromedas are a grey area. We have read reviews and comments of users who both love and hate the IEM’s angular design. When using the Andromedas for the first time, it might get uncomfortable. However, when well positioned, you can be sure of a comfortable fit. The IEM also has an edgy design, which will also cause discomfort if you push the IEM too far that it touches the inside of your ears.
Like the FiiO FH5, the Campfire Audio Andromedas also comes with a short nozzle. However, surprisingly the isolation with the Andromedas is good. However, this, like comfort, depends on the tips. Selecting the wrong tips not only leaves you with reduced noise isolation but can also cause a few sore spots.
Sonically, the Andromeda is a balanced IEM. Though not reference quality, the Andromeda strikes a wonderfull mix of clarity, detail, and naturalness. Starting off with the bass, it is nicely extended and well balanced with excellent separation from the midrange. The mids on the Andromeda are incredible. Vocal performance, both male and female, comes out naturally and has a realistic tone. The treble reproduction is clear and detailed. It lacks sibilance or graininess and extends nicely.
Overall, the Campfire Andromeda is well built. However, for the price paid to own this IEM, the overall fit and comfort is not perfect. Though some adjustments might make the Andromeda comfortable, it is still not enough considering the price. Other than that, the sound quality is outstanding. The sound is universal and complete with plenty of details.
9. SIMGOT EM2 – Great in-Ear Monitor Headphones for Drummers
Headphone Driver: Hybrid driver
Impedance: 15 ohms
What We Like: Good value, clarity, best stock carrying case, Comfortable
What We Don’t: Midrange slightly recessed
SIMGOT is a Chinese audio company that has a wide range of IEM offerings in the market. SIMGOT, according to the company, means “simple and elegant.” This is portrayed in their IEM offerings. From the EM1, EM2, EM3, EM5, and the popular EM700, SIMGOT has a lot of quality IEMs for its customers. Today we review the SIMGOT EM2.
The packaging of the Simgot EM2 is simple yet classy. Opening the box reveals the SIMGOT EM2 and one of the best leather cases we have unpacked. Unlike most IEM cases that turn out not to be useful for everyday use, this is hard to protect the IEM and slim enough to fit into your pocket. The package also comes with three pairs (S/M/L) of narrow bored ear tips for bass emphasis and three pairs (S/M/L) of wide bored ear tips for treble. A cable and warranty card are also available.
The Shells of the SIMGOT EM2 IEM are made out of acrylic. They are not as good as other CNC machined IEM shells, but they are solid. The shells are sleek, and a tear-shaped design completes the looks. The earpieces are mid-sized and would fit many ears without being problematic. The nozzles are properly sized, which does not limit insertion depth. The large ring on the nozzle prevents slippage of the tips. The nozzles are metallic and gold plated and include also include a metallic mesh that prevents wax or dust from going through.
The size and design of the SIMGOT EM2 make them a very comfortable fit. The IEMs sit firmly in place for longer, without any feeling of fatigue. The isolation is also perfect, especially for a universal IEM. The IEM blocks out external noise and is an ideal traveling companion because of its sound blocking abilities.
The SIMGOT EM2 has an overall gentle U-shaped sound signature. The sub-bass is present but in limited quantity. The provided bass tips do a great job of improving the sub-bass. The mid-bass is decent and controlled. Overall the bass sits well along with the whole frequency spectrum. The mids are slightly recessed but very revealing. Vocals sound more upfront, kick drum, and snares are well reproduced and fun to listen to. Drummers or people who enjoy drums will love this part of the SIMGOT EM2. The treble is most likely the strong suit of the EM2. Guitars, cymbals, and high pitched sounds come out clearly with good separation.
Overall, for the price paid to have this IEM, it proves worthy of every coin spent. While other IEMs pack more drivers as possible, SIMGOT EM2 takes a simpler way. The upside of this is, the representation of details is better, and the overall sound is good. Drums, guitars, and vocal fans would enjoy this IEM.
10. Audio-Technica ATH-E40 – Best for Jazz and Classical
Headphone Driver: Dynamic
Impedance: 12 ohms
Sensitivity: 107 dB
What We Like: Balanced sound, clarity, good carrying case, wide soundstage
What We Don’t: Takes time to get a good fit
Audio Technica is one of the industry leaders in the audio niche. The company is well known for its monitoring headphones, mics, and phonograph cartridges. One of the best headphones by Audio Technica includes the M50, one of the most recommended headphones on the internet. The Audio-Technica ATH-E40 is advertised as monitoring and mixing IEM. How does it sound? Find out below.
The ATH-E40 comes in a small box, which is common in their mid to high-end series of in-ear monitors. It is nothing out of the box and serves the intended purpose. Inside the box, you get the IEM, three pairs of silicone ear tips (XS, S, L) in plastic storage, 6.4 mm adapter, a black hardshell carrying case, a warranty card, and other relevant paperwork.
The Audio-Technica ATH-E40 is built entirely out of plastic. It is hard and feels high quality and durable. The IEM has a matte black color and features a translucent circular end cap that shows the inner circuitry and drivers of the IEM. The size of the ATH-E40 is a little bigger, but the weight is also less compared t other IEMs. With the ATH-E40, Audio Technica decided to go with the Audio Designed Detachable Coaxial (A2DC) connector. It is not quite popular like the MMCX and 2-Pin but works very well. However, it functions like an MMCX connector, but it does not rotate freely around the connection.
Getting a proper fit with the ATH-E40 is not easy. You will need to move it several times before the IEM sits comfortably. Once you get the right spot, comfort should be excellent. They are light, but their bigger shape makes them stick out of the ear. Though they are comfortable, the fit is not desirable. The IEM feels like they might fall out anytime, but the ear wires hold them in. Isolation will depend on the fit, and we would recommend getting fitting ear tips to go with the IEM.
As for the sound quality, overall, the ATH-E40 has a wide soundstage, very good detail, and a balanced leaning sound signature. The bass has right quantity, controlled, with a good thump without overpowering the mids or the treble. Mids are lush and natural. Guitars and vocals come out with authoritativeness and sound very clean. The treble is clear but slightly overshadowed by the mids. They lack sibilance and do not sound harsh in any way.
If you can look past the ergonomic and fit of the Audio-Technica ATH-E40, then you have a very good IEM. It performs well with most music genres, but we would recommend it to jazz and classical fans. It is also well built and the comfort is ok.
- What Are In-ear Monitors?
- Straight or over-ear
- Wireless or wired
- Types of Removable Cables
- Driver types
- How Many Drivers Are Enough?
- Foam vs. Silicone Ear Tips
- Universal Vs. Custom IEMs
In-ear monitors, IEMs, Canal phones, closed-earphones, are a type of in-ear headphones created to give a user an immersive listening experience while keeping out most of the ambient noise out.
In the headphone market, IEMs are considered the professional version of the earbuds.
In-ear monitors come with several advantages that make them a preferred choice by audiophiles, music lovers, recording engineers, or even musicians on stage.
First, it is noise isolation. Singers/musicians on stage first used IEMs because they allowed them and to hear themselves and fellow singers/musicians when performing. For live performers, In-ear monitors also deliver mixes into the performer’s ears. This, coupled with better isolation, makes it possible for a performer to hear themselves better, unlike performing with stage wedges.
For audiophile and music lovers, In-ear monitors are a preferred choice because they deliver better sound quality than conventional earbuds, have better noise isolation and are much more comfortable to wear for more extended periods without hurting.
Learn more about IEMs. Read our article on In-ear monitors vs. earbuds.
In-ear monitors are more or less like our regular headphones. They are designed with the same concept in mind but for a different purpose.
There are two basic designs/styles when it comes to choosing an in-ear monitor. There are the ones that go into the ear and let the cable hang straight down, known as straight design and there are the ones that wrap over the back of the ear, known as over-ear design.
Choosing between a straight or over-ear design is a matter of taste and personal preference.
While straight IEM models are cheaper, there are very few models that deliver quality sound. Straight IEMs are also easier to put in your ear and also work well.
Over-ear IEMs are popular and remain a preferred model for audio enthusiasts and live performers. Like straight IEMs, over-ear IEMs have wires, but instead of the cables hanging loose they are designed to go over or behind the ear. By the wires going over-ear, the IEM is secure, and this also conceals the cables, so they are harder to spot.
With high-end IEMs or CIEMs, the straight design is rarely used. Though over-ear IEMs are a little expensive, they are worth it.
Like headphones, IEMs are also available in wired and wireless designs.
Wired In-ear models are the popular option. Their design allows a user to connect to any playback device and use the IEM without a hitch. Wired IEMs are also cheaper and also come with better sound quality. However, unlike wireless IEMs, you will have a deal with the wires, which can be a hassle to control at times.
Wireless IEMs are convenient as you do not have to deal with wires. Wireless IEMs are better suited for musicians or live performers who move a lot, and a wired IEM would not suffice. Though they come with their convenience, wireless IEMs will cost extra, and you will more likely need to consider other features like; the battery life, connectivity, and sound quality.
Our advice would be to go wireless when it matters. For musicians and live performers, wireless IEMs are a convenience. However, for audio enthusiasts, if it will not make a difference, you better spend that extra money on getting better IEMs.
read more about wired and wireless headphones on our headphone buying guide.
If you have ever lost a pair of headphones because the cable was destroyed, then you will appreciate being able to swap old and defective wires for new ones. That is one benefit of IEMs that come with removable cables.
Another benefit with removable cables is being able to add more functionality and features to your IEMs. So, if you need a longer or a shorter cable, want to add an inline remote with mic, or make your earbuds wireless by adding a Bluetooth cable, there are a variety of removable wires to go with a set of IEM.
There are different removable cables that you can select in the market, depending on the type of connectors your IEM will have. The types of pin connectors in the market include 2-pin connectors, MMCX connectors, A2DC connectors, etc. It is worth noting that most of the modern removable cables are using MMCX connectors.
See our list of the best Bluetooth MMCX cables.
In-ear monitors come with different types of drivers that create the spectrum of sound. The drivers found in IEMs are the same as those found in speakers and headphones, but they are smaller. The type of driver that comes with an IEM helps in determining the quality of sound that will be produced.
The different types of headphone drivers that come in IEMs are; dynamic drivers, balanced armature drivers, planar magnetic drivers, and electrostatic drivers. All these drivers have their advantages and disadvantages. The drivers present in IEMs will also influence the price of the IEM. Electrostatic IEMs are the most expensive, followed by planar-magnetic IEMs. Dynamic and balanced armature IEMs are more popular, and most are budget-friendly.
To learn more about headphone drivers – their advantages and disadvantages, read this post on the different headphone drivers.
Like studio monitors, having more drivers in an IEM generally means you will be getting better audio quality. This is because each driver present in the earpiece will handle a narrower frequency response, e.g., bass, treble, or midrange, and this will result in more efficiency and clarity.
While an IEM with one driver is not bad for starters, having or upgrading to an IEM with more drivers is better. Without getting technical about it, the more drivers you have, the better the efficiency. Even if the drivers cover the same frequency response range, each additional driver added shares the workload hence combined, and they function optimally. This results in clearer highs, more articulate mids, and a deeper low-end which is suitable especially for drummers and bass players.
The earbud part of an in-ear monitor that goes into the ear comes into direct contact with the ear canal. To increase comfort, improve audio quality, and offer better noise isolation, they are fitted with either foam or silicone ear tips.
Foam ear tips tend to be denser and offer a higher degree of noise isolation than silicone ear tips. However, foam ear tips place a lot of pressure on the canal, which makes them uncomfortable over time. To improve the comfort of foam ear tips, you can try foams made out memory foam. Foam ear tips also do not handle sweat very well, which leads to faster destruction when exposed to sweat. In the market, compared to silicone ear tips, foam tips are more expensive.
Silicone ear tips are the most common type and come at relatively lower prices. Silicone ear tips use suction to stay in place, and this makes them suitable for active performers. Though they are not great in noise isolation like foam tips, silicone tips are lighter, and its hypoallergenic properties make it a great choice for many people.
Our ears come in different shapes, so IEM manufacturers include a variety of ear tips you can choose from. You can test the different sizes and materials to find, which fits better to deliver optimum results.
The fit of an in-ear monitor plays an essential role in use, comfort, and sound isolation. There are two types of IEMs you can choose for yourself – universal fit or custom fit (CIEMs).
Universal fit as the name suggests are IEMs that fit most of the user’s ears. Universal fit IEMs are cheaper but might not offer effective noise isolation.
Custom in-ear monitors or CIEMs for short are made according to an individual’s ear shape. They are more expensive but are better at noise isolation and comfort. Check out our complied list of CIEM makers.
The choice between Universal or Custom IEMs comes down to what you need and the price you are willing to pay. Learn more about CIEMs and Univeral IEMs.