Earphones run the gamut in pricing, ranging from $10 cheapies to well over $1,000 for audiophile-quality choices. The truth is that most music listeners aren't looking for a nirvana experience with earphones, especially when on the go (which is what they're most suitable for). However, there are a number of midpriced earphones that give a very pleasurable experience at $150 or less. These are a great value because they stand head-and-shoulders above budget sets without the premium price of audiophile earphones.
If you want a great sound-to-price ratio, reviewers say the Klipsch Image S4 earphones (*Est. $70) are the ones to get. Klipsch also offers the Image S4i (*Est. $100) , which adds in-line iPod/iPhone/iPad controls and a microphone to the Image S4. CNET's Jasmine France, PCMag.com's Tim Gideon and DigitalTrends.com's Nick Mokey all give the S4/S4i an Editors' Choice award, and the British consumer magazine Which? says it's a Best Buy. France writes that these Klipsch earphones deliver "shockingly stellar sound quality" and sound as good as those that cost three times as much. Detail and clarity are impressive, though some may find the bass a little overpowering. Most reviewers and users find the Image S4 comfortable and secure. If you want to use this as a headset or remote, however, make sure you check compatibility before shelling out the extra $20 for the S4i version.
Durability is an issue with many headphones costing less than several hundred dollars (except for sports models, which are built to take abuse), and that's the source of the most user complaints at sites like Amazon.com. Some owners report connectors coming out, earbuds dying and buttons on the S4i malfunctioning. On the other hand, Newegg.com reviewers have fewer complaints, and some say their earphones have lasted for years with gentle care.
Klipsch customer service is generally reported as cooperative, and the company will send out replacements if you're within the two-year warranty period and purchased yours from an authorized reseller (also a way to ensure you don't get stuck with a subpar counterfeit unit). Recent user reviews report a thicker cable, and these earphones do come with a case, albeit a rather bulky, Altoids-style one. Still, for maximum longevity, it's a good idea to keep headphones in the case when not in use.
The Phonak Audeo PFE 112 (*Est. $140) earphones come from a Swiss company specializing in hearing aids. They are also available in a version with inline controls and a microphone, the PFE 122 (*Est. $140) PFE 122 (*Est. $140) . PFE stands for Perfect Fit Earphones, and while most reviewers and users say they're comfortable and secure, Martin Sagmuller of AnythingButiPod.com reports some discomfort after extended use.
The PFE 112/122 earphones have a unique setup that includes three sets of filters that can be swapped out. Stuart Andrews at TrustedReviews.com says, "[o]pt for one of the two pairs of black filters and you should get a sound with a more pronounced bass and treble. The grey filter, meanwhile, is designed to add clarity and definition in the mid-range." Reviewers say bass is unimpressive with the gray filter and ranges are balanced with the black, but the PFE 112 isn't for bass lovers. All reviewers praise the clarity and detail, but some say the volume doesn't get very loud. Sagmuller and CNET's France both declare the PFE 112 an Editors' Choice.
No survey of earphones would be complete without an entrant from Etymotic, and reviewers praise the Etymotic hf2 (*Est. $150) . These earphones are essentially the same as the Etymotic ER-4 (*Est. $300) , except that they're not tested as rigorously for sonic accuracy. Still, reviewers are impressed with the detail and clarity.
PCMag.com's Gideon and Ray Aguilera from MacLife designate the hf2 an Editors' Choice. Bass can fall a little short, but that depends somewhat on fit, which can be tricky with Etymotic earphones. They go deep into the ear canal, which provides a great seal (if worn properly) but can be uncomfortable for some. You can add custom earpieces for an extra $100, which boosts comfort and security of fit. The hf2 earphones come with a microphone and remote, and reviewers who test them report that the microphone works well. Reviewers report some compatibility issues. CNET's France reports problems like static and lack of midrange when trying the headphones with Sansa Clip and Creative Zen MP3 players. Etymotic's website says the hf2 earphones work with Blackberry, Samsung, HTC, Motorola, HP and Apple products.