If you’re at all serious about the sound you feed your head, you’ve already replaced whatever craptastic headphones (aka earbuds, earphones, or in-ear monitors) came in the box with your digital media player of choice. Now you’re ready for another upgrade, and with the economy in turn-around mode, you can afford to splurge just a bit.
Type “earbud” into Amazon’s search box and you’ll get more than 4,000 results, so to guide you through the thicket, we picked out six pairs of sub-$100 in-ear monitors from the biggest names in the business: Audio-Technica, Klipsch, Sennheiser, SkullCandy, Ultimate Ears, and VModa. We then created a playlist on a third-generation iPhone populated with songs from a broad spectrum of styles, including classical, rock, jazz, world beat, funk, and techno from artists ranging from old-school (The Beatles) to new-school (White Rabbits) to cool-school (John Coltrane). We also made a point of selecting a mixture of electric and acoustic performances mastered with both analog and digital studio equipment. All tracks were ripped from CD (recordings produced with both analog and digital studio gear) and encoded in Apple Lossless format.
SkullCandy’s Holua earbuds couple bodacious fashion sense with ridiculous portions of bass. “The wood is good,” says the packaging, calling attention to the fact that these buds’ shells are crafted from once-live trees. We don’t know if the wood is responsible for the Holua’s double-deep bass response, but the tiny fashion plates delivered glowingly warm bottom end with everything from the Fab Four’s forlorn “She’s Leaving Home” to the White Rabbits’ masterful rattler “Percussion Gun.” In the words of Pat Travers, “Boom-boom, out go the lights.”