Earphones: The Cheap, the Neat & the Visionary

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Earphones are one of those rare categories where you can find both products representing the most mundane of devices, as well as the most bleeding-edge jewels of technology. As a result, it is easy to get lost between the umpteen models lined up between the inexpensive Philips SHE series that cost Rs. 150, and a pair of Bose QC 20’s billed at Rs. 25,000.

What to look out for when buying earphones?

As a guide to help you pick out the best pair of earphones, explained below are the top five elements that you must factor into your purchase decision.

Sound reproduction

It is obviously going to get tough to deliver great sound when earphones come with drivers the size of a fingernail.

Frequency: To get a good idea of the sound quality that can be expected from a pair, check the frequency range shown on the package. It may show a range from 15hz to 20khz – the lower the starting number, the better the bass. There is not really much point to get earphones above 20khz because your ear cannot detect anything above that.

Impedance: You also need to check the impedance of your earphones, the higher the impedance (measured in ohms), the clearer the music you hear. If you are going to use your earphone without an amplifier (via a smartphone for example), go for 32 ohms or lower.

Noise isolation

How important is music for you over the surroundings? The answer to the question will decide how much noise isolation you would be looking for in your earphones. Of course, there are people who use noise cancellation earphones to get some peace at work instead of whiling away time with music. Normal earphones that hang right outside your ear canal have very little noise cancelation, while the in-ear phones are good fitting enough to enable them to enjoy some natural noise isolation. There is also the other end of the spectrum – people who want to hear ambient sounds around them with greater clarity along with their music. These are the ones who would go for either a practical Bose QC20, or a Bragi Dash for superhuman hearing abilities.

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Value for money

There is no such thing as a free lunch,” goes the saying. If the product is insanely cheap, then the manufacturer has found a way to cut some corners. The question is whether you are prepared to deal with the consequences or lack of features on inexpensive earphones.

It is really a matter of how much certain features are worth to you. For instance, in-ear phones retailing at Rs. 800 offer better noise-isolation than standard earphones. However, if you travel a lot around the world but simply cannot stand the drone of airplane engines then an active noise-cancelling earphone costing Rs. 15,000 might not seem like a hefty sum anymore. The same goes for other value-add features like magnified ambient sounds and Bluetooth connectivity.

Ergonomics

Considering that most earphone users have them plugged in for the better part of the day, the importance of ergonomics has gone to a whole new level for consumer electronics. Depending on the kind of usage you have planned for your earphone, you may need to get ones that offer better ergonomics. If your run, hit the gym, or battle your way through hordes at the Delhi Metro on a daily basis with earphones on, you will need ones that do not fall of at the slightest jerk. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to judge which earphone fits you best unless you try it. Some of the better earphones in the market do come with multiple-sized earbuds so those are worth a try too. In fact, ergonomics is such a big issue that firms such as Revols have come out with earphones that have tips that mould to the unique shape of your ears in 60 seconds for a truly custom fit.

Durability

Do you remember the classic Samsung and Apple comparison from a few years back, where plastic Samsung phones were touted as better than the metal clad phones from Apple. It was all the rage until Samsung themselves flipped the switch and started selling metal phones (and their devices got more expensive too). In the world of earphones, small electronic devices dangling for their lives from your ears, durability can be the one element that decides whether your purchase serves you for the years to come or disappears abruptly from your life. Cheaply built earphones come with hissing noises, crackle when adjusted, and take just a few hits before they crumble.

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Top Picks

Let us take a look at the top picks of earphones for different categories.

Popular & Inexpensive standard earphones: Philips SHE1360/97

All you care about is music playing through a little speaker in your ear? Want no gimmicks or promises of revolutionary technology? The Philips SHE1360/97 is the earphone you want. Retailing for about Rs. 109 – 150 based on where you look at, it has a 15-millimetre driver, 16-ohm impedance, and a frequency response of 16 – 20,000Hz. A four star rating on Amazon backs it up.

Popular & Inexpensive In-Ear earphones: Sennheiser CX 180 Street II

These will offer better noise-isolation than the Philips earphones mentioned above, while featuring a similar impedance and frequency response. It comes with a set of differently sized ear buds to help deliver a better fit for your ear. The Sennheiser brand, a Rs. 889 price tag at Amazon, as well as a 4.5 star average rating on Amazon makes this one a value for money best seller.

Wireless & Revolutionary Earphones: Dot STEREO featuring aptX

These are extremely small earphones that you can keep in your ear to enjoy music without wires dangling out. While there have been Bluetooth earphones available previously, they did have wires connected to the second earphone in the pair. Dot comes with aptX technology that minimises latency and audio syncing issues while wirelessly delivering the full audio bandwidth for better quality music. Weighing just 3.5 grams, this light weight pair comes with a heavy weight price tag of above Rs. 10,000 unless you get it from Indiegogo.com for a discount.

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High-end Noise Cancellation earphones: Bose QueitComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling

Bose’s legendary active noise cancelling technology remains unparalleled in their full size headphones as well as these earphones. The design looks like a hybrid of a standard earphone and an in-ear phone, but that is due to the need to house the electronics needed to deliver noise cancellation to the user. An in-built microphone senses external noise and an equal and opposite signal is created, which is converted to sound by the speaker. This essentially cancels the intruding noise and you enjoy almost perfect silence. It is similar to the technology used in aviation headsets worn by pilots. These earphones also let you activate a setting in which the ambient noise around you is let in so that you can stay aware of your surroundings if needed. This pair retails at a smarting Rs. 25,000, although you might be able to find deals online taking it down by 20 per cent.

Professional grade earphones: Inear Stagedriver 4 (SD-4)

Used by picky musicians and artists, this is a flagship offering from German company Inear. It features four Balance Armature drivers on each channel, black twisted cable, and silicon tips. Most audiophile review websites claim that this pair of earphones is one of the best-tuned ones they could find. It costs Rs. 1,54,000 at Amazon India, but is “cheaper” abroad at around the equivalent of Rs. 60,000.

What will it be?

So have you decided to go for another value for money earphone, or has this article excited to check out one of the more expensive models? Whichever you select, hope you have a wonderful listening experience!

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