There's no doubt that if you want music bliss, you're going to have to pay for it. Even midrange earphones can't deliver clarity, detail and accuracy like a pair that costs several hundred dollars. Durability also improves with some models offering detachable cables that can be replaced independently of the earpieces, so if they tear, you're not out several hundred dollars.
As in the value earphones and sports earphones categories, Klipsch delivers a winner, this time with the Image X10i (*Est. $350) . As the price indicates, these are the company's high-end entry in the earphones arena, and they live up to audiophile quality with excellent clarity and detail. Reviewers at Britain's Which? say they're a Best Buy choice, and Nick Mokey at DigitalTrends.com gives them an Editors' Choice award. Most reviewers and users report good balance across the sonic ranges, though some find the midranges sometimes inaccurate (depending on the track), and bass response won't satisfy those who demand the lowest lows. Unanimous praise, however, is given for their small, light design, which makes wearing them a joy. The X10i comes with a microphone and inline remote, but like the S4i, make sure yours is compatible (which basically means some iPhone, iPod and iPad models).
If you're willing to spend hundreds on a high-quality pair of in-ear headphones, the Shure SE535 (*Est. $500) is a solid pick. Sound quality and detail are top-notch. The detachable Kevlar-reinforced cable is sturdy but on the heavy side, which can influence the security of the fit. Several reviewers note that getting the Shure SE535 to fit properly is a hassle, and not doing so compromises sound quality. CNET's Jasmine France gives these earphones a high rating, though not an Editors' Choice, and Hugo Jobling at TrustedReviews.com recommends them.
The most affordable audiophile earphones that are rated highly in reviews are the Swedish-made Jays Q-Jays (*Est. $230) . Jeremy Horwitz of iLounge.com gives them an A (Highly Recommended) grade, and Campbell Simpson at PC World Good Gear Guide (Australia) names them an Editors' Choice. All reviewers praise clarity and detail, which is on par with the likes of Shure, Etymotic and similar high-end makers.
Fit is tricky, though, and this seems to be reflected in the reviews. Most agree that bass is good, though not up to basshead standards. Horwitz says the Q-Jays lack some depth in the high ranges, while Ian Bell at DigitalTrends.com says the highs are too bright on some tracks. Martin Sagmuller at AnythingButiPod.com says the highs are fine but the midranges are on the weak side. Fit could be an issue if you have large ears because the Q-Jays are tiny in comparison to competitors. Despite the tricky fit, however, once in, they're comfortable, and the choice of nine different eartips certainly helps.