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.
If you shop based on feature charts and price points and pick up V-Moda’s Remix Remote as a result, you’ll stick ‘em in your ears and think “hey, not too shabby!” They delivered bright performances with acoustic tracks and classical music played at mid volume, and middling performances with more demanding recordings at low to medium volume.
As we quickly discovered, however, they just can’t handle any genre featuring bass and drums at high volume. Take Deadmau5 & Kaskade’s dance anthem “I Remember.” This clean and not-so-demanding synth-pop song was the only non-acoustic track the Remix Remote could handle well at any sort of higher volume—and that was only on the front side of the cut. Once the song opened up into its first big breakdown/rebuild, the track disintegrated into a wall of pounding distortion.