Basic guide to IEM/earbuds

Discussion in 'Audiophiles: Headphones, Earphones, etc.' started by thechungster, Mar 1, 2009.

  1. thechungster

    thechungster Super Moderator Emeritus

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    [Disclaimer] Some of this info might not be correct [Disclaimer]

    So I get a few messages in my inbox saying: "Hey, which are the best headphones to get?" I find that this is a pretty vague question to ask. Headphones deliver certain sound signatures, and will sound different. Some might have incredible bass, but lacks that detail in the mids+treble, may be good in mids+treble but lack bass etc... So I will make this thread dedicated to IEM's and earbuds.

    What is the difference between IEM and earbud?

    IEM (In ear monitor), commonly called an in ear headphone or canal phone is a type of inter-aural headphone. It is designed to be inserted into the ear canal and creating an air tight seal, thus blocking out ambient noise and creating an acoustic chamber which achieves a more fuller sound. Earbuds however lie in the opening of the ear. This does not create an air tight seal and will leak out noise. They can come with clip ons for the ear to enhance comfort.

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    IEM: Designed to be inserted into the ear canal.

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    Earbud: Designed to rest in the opening of the ear.


    Transducer types
    IEM's use two different types of transducers(Drivers): They are the Balanced Armature and the Dynamic.

    Dynamic transducers consist of a moving coil. It is generally cheaper, and more easily available. Earbuds use these, and tha majority of cheaper IEM's use them as well. They are known for their bassy response since air is pushed out (Like a big speaker). The downside of these is the size. They are relatively bigger than BA transducers. Another note is that they cheaper IEM's that use dynamic transducers tend to be of low quality, but there are some IEM manufacturers that dedicate to high-end dynamic transducers.

    BA transducers are a lot smaller than dynamic transducers but they tend to be more expensive. However, because of their size, you can easily find IEM's that consist of 2-3 BA transducers in each earpiece. Downsides of BA transducers is that a single transducer moves a lot less air than a dynamic transducer (The reason being 2-3 BA transducers to solve the frequency problem) and another is that they are of a higher price tag.

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    Dynamic transducer

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    Balanced armature transducer



    So how much should I spend on some headphones?


    Well the peak of the performance/price ratio in my opinion is at the $150-$300 area. At the $400 area, it is more personal preference. But <$100, seems to be a bit less. However, if you can't hear details from a pair of $20 IEMs and a pair of $100 IEMs then maybe you shouldn't justify a lot of money in spending on headphones.

    Types of sound signatures

    Different IEM manufacturer's have a certain sound signature to them. Bose is one that is incredibly warm, and lacking in detail. Etymotic is known for their incredible detail in the mids+high end but it lacks bass, this brand is usually suited for classical. Shure are known for their forward mids and rolled-off highs and the list goes on. If you are making a thread, please tell us your musical tastes, and what kind of sound you like from headphones.

    If you have any questions, please feel free to ask and if you have any ideas about what I can add into this post, please do so. I will update this post if I have forgotten anything.

    I see people wearing their headphone upside down? Why is this?


    Here is a photo of me, wearing my headphones with the over-the-ear cable method:

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    There are 2 ways of wearing IEM's. One way is the over-the-ear method, and the other is the wire hanging down. Some IEM manuracturers produce their IEM's so they are worn in one of those ways, some being ergonomic. The reason for them being "Upside down" is because of fit. If you do not achieve a good seal and fit, then your sound is going to sound rubbish and might not result in enough bass. It does not matter which was you wear them, but when wearing the wire over the ear, microphonics (Cable noise) tends to be reduced, and there is more stability as the wire is hanging over the ear. Sound is not affected if you wear it one way or another if you achieve a decent fit both ways.

    How to read frequency graphs

    Well here's one of those minor things which may be quite useful when researching a pair of headphones. Here is a typical A/B frequency graph of 2 headphones.

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    On the x axis, it shows the frequency, and on the y the change in volume in db. They run a tone at 90dB SPL@1kHz and it basically shows what type of headphones these are. If the left (Bass) is high, and the treble (Left) is low, then the headphones would be considered a bassy pair. If it was vise-versa, then it would be counted as quite bright. As you see on the above image, it compares the Sennheiser IE8's to the Shure SE110. Not a fair test, I know but it is only an example. The Sennheiser's have more bass and mids+treble seems to shine more than the SE110. The SE110 show a sudden drop in treble: This is called "Rolled off highs" It is when, at certain volumes, the treble can become quieter. It may be less fatiguing, but you can lose some of that magic.

    If you are interested in making a graph and comparing some headphones, go here.
  2. Ryan

    Ryan Well-Known Member

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    a headphone thread... from chung? NO WAY!
  3. thechungster

    thechungster Super Moderator Emeritus

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    Haha

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    Well, I'm really bored and thought I would help you guys turn into mini-audiophiles

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  4. hakk79

    hakk79 Well-Known Member

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    *hakk79 Points up at quote*


    ^Expert^
  5. sdschramm

    sdschramm Member

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    THANK YOU! This should be stickied!!!

    This would answer many questions that noobs on here always ask!
  6. atomicmufin

    atomicmufin Banned

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    NO!!!

    DONT do that!!
  7. thechungster

    thechungster Super Moderator Emeritus

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    Nah, I'm not real expert. I've seen more 1337er audiophiles before

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    Lulz.
  8. eric_chaos

    eric_chaos Well-Known Member

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    sticky plawkcs
  9. crovian

    crovian Active Member

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    is it just the shure earphones or do most in-ear ones have the cancer warning?

    there is a little warning on my shure scl3 package that says something like 'this product contains material known to the state of california to cause cancer'

    i still use it but its a little bit scary
  10. thechungster

    thechungster Super Moderator Emeritus

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    What the feck, what on Earth did Shure use to do that... Well doesn't seem like it now...

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