In-Ear Headphones Pros and Cons
In-Ear headphones isolate ambient sound by sealing in the ear using flexible foam or silicone tips. Several tip shapes and sizes are proposed, and you have to find the one that perfectly fits, providing both isolation and confort.
Sound isolation offers a better listening experience than standard earbud headphones, but you have to be aware that too much isolation can be dangerous when practicing outdoor sports or even walking in the street, as it makes you deaf to external signals.
Confort is a very important factor when choosing In-Ear headphones: hurting ears will ruin your experience even with the best sound rendering gear. Some In-Ear can be worn for hours while others will become a torture after 10 or 20 minutes.
There is a large choice of In-Ear headphones on the market ranging from a few bucks to more than $400, but higher prices do not always guarantee the highest quality: don't fall in this trap. There are very good quality headphones available at reasonable prices!
Less than $50
Soundmagic PL30 In-Ear Headphones
That's the Chinese phenomenon that made a terrible buzz on iPod / iPhone forums some months ago, and if I think they have been largely overrated, I'm also convinced that they offer the best sound that you can get for such a low price.
Actually, the sound is far from perfect, but their neutrality (rendering bass, medium and treble equally) make the PL30 able to compete with more expensive headphones (if you know how to use an equalizer).
Sound quality: 5/5 (for the price)
Creative Labs EP-630 In-Ear Headphones
On an iPod or a good MP3 player, they provide a more than correct sound, with very good bass rendering, more than correct medium rendering. Trebles tend to saturate a little bit but it remains acceptable.
They don't enter very deep in ears, they are light and don't move when you run: they are "jogging friendly".
Sound quality: 3/5
Philips SHE9800 In-Ear Headphones
An elegant design, like most of Philipps product: these headphones are light and provide a good sound isolation once you choose the right tip.
The sound is well balanced and rendering of the whole frequences range is more than correct, although bass slightly lack of depth. Cable is not very well isolated: rubbing against clothes generates parasite sounds: not really made for jogging.
Sound quality: 4/5
Less than $100
JAYS J-JAYS Dynamic Driver In-Ear Earphones
Well designed, well finished, sold with many accessories, the J-Jays perform very well on an iPhone or an iPod, with a warm sound: bass and low-medium are (may be too) well rendered, high-medium and treble lack of strength but it can be corrected by equalizing.
A good choice if you like accoustic records and live concerts.
Sound quality: 4/5
Etymotic Research ER6i Isolator In-Ear Earphones
For me, the best that you can find for less than $100 in term of sound. As they enter deep into ears, you have to choose the right tip for perfect isolation and confort. Some people will not like this intrusion into their ear.
Trebles are clear and accurately rendered, medium a little bit weaker but still very good. Bass lack of strenght but remain more than correct.
The only problem that I see with these headphones is sound isolation: it is too perfect, making you completely deaf to external sounds, and you will not hear that truck coming when crossing the street. So use with caution when outside.
Sound quality: 5/5
Bose® In-Ear Headphones
They are called "In-Ear" but they are not like other In-Ear as they don't really seal in ear canal, and provide less isolation. In term of confort, they are really great.
In term of sound, they have a very strong Bose® signature: predominant bass and treble with weak medium. Some people love it, some other really hate it. I would say that the sound is correct if you listen mainly pop/rock, but not so good if your favorite music is opera or symphonic concerts.
Sound quality: 3/5