For over 10 years, I have been listening to music with the Westone UM1 In-Ear Monitor, which I originally discovered via Cool Tools way back in 2003. They are wonderful noise-isolating earbuds, but they have a downside — I have to repurchase them every couple of years because the little plastic earbud stem snaps off, and at $100 a pop, this has become a deal-breaker. So after another pair snapped a couple weeks ago, I decided to explore alternatives.
In my experience, earphones are kind of like sunglasses; it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of money on them, because they are highly likely to get lost or broken. If I were planning to wear earphones exclusively in my apartment, I might look into purchasing a premium over-the-ear pair, but most of the time I wear them while I am commuting on public transit, jogging, or at the gym — all activities which carry a high potential for impact. They routinely get tugged out or jammed into a pants pocket or bag.
I’ve ordered numerous audio cables from Monoprice over the years with great results, so after reading a few positive reviews online, I decided to give their Enhanced Bass Hi-Fi Noise Isolating Earphones a try. They were cheap (<$8), so it wasn't a big risk. Also, it seems to me that the largest determining factor in headphone sound quality is noise isolation, so I decided to upgrade the stock tips with Comply T-400 Isolation Earphone Tips ($15 Amazon). I’ve been listening to music through this setup for a couple weeks, and although the Monoprice earbuds don’t sound as good as the Westones — the treble can be a little harsh at times — the sound quality is probably 80%. Also, the Comply tips provide a tight, comfortable fit when I’m active. A tip: the cables are wrapped in some sort of fabric which makes them a little rigid, so they can spring out from behind your ears. To solve this problem, I positioned the cables and then tied a knot under my chin, which keeps them in place.
I also purchased a pair of the Monoprice over-the-ear DJ-style headphones ($32 Amazon, $23 Monoprice). These have become my go-to pair; I’ve been wearing them every morning during my SF Muni commute. The consensus of the reviewers on the Monoprice site suggests that the DJ-style headphones are more durable than the lightweight model, and although I wasn’t able to directly compare the two, I will say that they are solidly constructed and the sound quality is great – a deep, rich bass. I’m sure they aren’t on par with a pair of premium over-the-ear headphones, but at 1/10 the price, they are close enough for me.