After taking a look at some of the MP3 players out on the market, we found one major consistency out of all of them out there: not one of them bundle a great pair of headphones in the package. Of the two big names out there, Creative Labs is probably the worst of the two in this regard. The packaged headphones for their lower end products, namely the Muvo line, are mediocre if not sub-par, mainly because they are oversized. More disappointingly, Creative seemed to switch their packaged headphones for the Muvo TX to a cheaper version already packaged with one of their lower end MP3 players. Apple made definite improvements by upgrading the packaged earbud headphones for the second iPod revision.

As for the no name brands, it is almost a given that additional pair of headphones need to be purchased. There are several earbud headphones on the market; a few even surpassing the $300 marker. The most popular of late seem to be the in-ear style headphones, as the headband style headphones seem to be less frequently used with those owning a MP3 player such as an iPod, Nomad Muvo, Nomad Jukebox, etc. Some of the no name brand MP3 players don't even come with a pair, so a purchase is inevitable.

The two most popular pair of in-ear headphones on the market are Apple's In-Ear headphones and the Sony In-Ear MDR-EX71SL, as both can be bought online at most retailers and are priced reasonably, under $40. Based on our experience with bundled headphones as well as readers asking us, we were curious to know which was the better choice. As a result, we picked up both headphones at Amazon.com to put through the AnandTech paces.

Apple's In-Ear and Sony's MDR-EX71SL
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  • TheAudit - Thursday, June 03, 2004 - link

    Good article. Reply
  • GokieKS - Thursday, June 03, 2004 - link

    "How can there be a review that is attempting to find "the best pair of in-ear headphones" without at least mentioning the two most well-known audiophile-quality in-ear headphone manufacturers, Etymotic and Shure?!? I know the article explains why they chose those headphones (they are easy to find)...but this is kind of like reviewing two $50 video cards and not even mentioning the type of performance you might get if you were to spend the money for something like an ATI X800."

    Well, the article is actually titled searching for "decent" headphones, which these do qualify (though a bit questionable in the case of the Apple pair). And whereas the difference in performance between a GF4 MX and a Radeon X800 can easily be quantified by benchmark numbers, it's MUCH MUCH harder to give a good reason on how one pair of headphones is other than another - audiophiles have the specific terms in which they like to describe certain aspects of sound quality, but for the majority of people, they mean absolutely nothing.

    Not to mention 99% of the population would be unwilling to spend $100 or more on earplugs.

    ~KS
    Reply
  • Scrith - Thursday, June 03, 2004 - link

    This is very strange (especially for Anandtech). How can there be a review that is attempting to find "the best pair of in-ear headphones" without at least mentioning the two most well-known audiophile-quality in-ear headphone manufacturers, Etymotic and Shure?!? I know the article explains why they chose those headphones (they are easy to find)...but this is kind of like reviewing two $50 video cards and not even mentioning the type of performance you might get if you were to spend the money for something like an ATI X800.

    I suggest that those interested in the best in-ear headphones (or standard headphones, for that matter) check out a store such as www.headphone.com or do some research at the headphone forum at www.head-fi.org.

    Still, it's good to see a review with an emphasis on audio here at Anandtech.
    Reply
  • wassup4u2 - Thursday, June 03, 2004 - link

    How does the sound quality of these compare with larger, "headband" headphones with 30mm drivers? I have a pair of Sony MDR-G54LP and was wondering how their sound quality would compare. Reply
  • GokieKS - Thursday, June 03, 2004 - link

    "Does anyone have an idea how these headphones compare to Sony's MDR-E888's?"

    In terms of comfort, they're leagues ahead. In terms of sound quality...well, depends on the kind of music, really. They're better rock 'n roll headphones, but if you're into say, classical or jazz, I'd say the E888s are probably the better choice.

    ~KS
    Reply
  • quorm - Thursday, June 03, 2004 - link

    Does anyone have an idea how these headphones compare to Sony's MDR-E888's? Reply
  • GokieKS - Thursday, June 03, 2004 - link

    As a semi-audiophile, let me start off by saying that, IMO, the Apple earbuds are completely not worth the money. They look nice, yeah, and allows the wearer to retain the "I've got an iPod and I want everyone to know about it" aspect of the stock (even crappier) earbuds while getting somewhat better sound, but that's about as far as their pros go. Sound quality is average at best, but it's a horrible value, but hey, it's an Apple product. =P (I'd like to mention that I'm actually a very big fan of most of Apple's hardware, but I'm under no illusion that they're the best bang for the buck.)

    The EX71s, on the other hand, are altogether more intersting. I've had two pairs of it - the first of which I imported from Japan about a year and a half ago, when they were sold here. I wanted a short-cord set of earbuds (my PCDP has a LCD corded remote), which meant I basically had to import. The EX71s were just introduced and coming off the usually-positive reviews of its predecessor, the EX70s, I figured it'd be a good choice. The Japanese models come in two colors, and I picked white, as at that point in time, I was fully expecting to get an iPod in the future, and I did want the color to match if possible (I've ended up getting an iRiver iHP-120, but that's a story for another time). With shipping, it costed nearly $60, but I felt they were worth the money - they sounded better than any earbuds I've ever used up until that point does, and the next step up would've been the Shure E2Cs, which cost quite a bit more.

    After that, as the EX71s were introduced in the US, I read more and more discussions about them on various forums, and the common issues many people (OK, audiophiles/headphone junkies) have with them is the bloated bass and muddy treble, and many saying the Sennheiser MX400/MX500s were better. I was a bit surprised, as though the bass response is indeed a lot stronger than one would expect, I felt they were much better than the Sennheisers (though quite a bit more expensive as well).

    Anyway, about a month ago, my pair failed on me - no sound from the right channel at all. I was disappointed, but not terribly surprised (in my rather expansive experience, Sony products have been paragons of excellence in design, but not reliability). I needed a pair of easily put-in/taken-out earbuds, which ruled out high-end offerings like those by Etymotic (though the sound quality on those are, by all indication, amazing and absolutely worth the cost). So what did I do? Order another pair of the EX71s, this time black and off Amazon ($30 at the time). Other than the color and the fact it comes with a plastic box to hold the extension cord/whatever else instead of the small (MD sized) pouch like the Japanese version, it looks identical.

    How they sounded, on the other hand, was a wholely different story. The bass/treble complaint that others had became clear as day. I tried breaking them in, to no avail - the bass, especially, is still overwhelming, to the point where it actually hurts my ears at times (my music repertoire doesn't include much in the way of heavy bass).

    I have no good explanation for this, but I will say that whereas I once recommended the EX71s without reservation, I can no longer do the same - only to those who like/can stand the bass.

    ~KS
    Reply

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