1. Galaxy Audio EB10, 2. NOCS NS800, 3. Ultimate Ears UE700, 4. Apple In-Ear Headphones
Photo Credit: Jens Mortensen
There's a reason most cheap in-ear headphones sound that way: They only use one driver in each ear, which limits the audio range. If you want more life, more spaciousness, and more oomph out of your favorite tracks, upgrade to some dual-driver ear buds.
On these models, each earpiece contains two separate speakers—one to handle the high and mid frequencies, and one to handle the bass. This separation creates a more rich and filled-out sound that makes any kind of music sound better. A dual-driver design is also especially good for listening to high-quality audio from lossless rips, HD videos, or other high-bitrate sources.
The earphones have circuitry inside of them to split the signal path appropriately, so there’s no extra equipment to buy. Almost every design on the market will slot right into a standard headphone jack, and many of them come with familiar controls on the cord so you can pause the music, change tracks, and talk on the phone.
Because there’s twice as much speaker tech crammed into the same tiny space, dual-driver ear buds tend to be more expensive than their single-speaker cousins. But we’ve tested four pairs that will do justice to your tunes without blasting your savings.
Don’t jog with the EB10s; they’re bulky and tough to keep in place while moving quickly. But if your main goal is listening to high-end audio formats, you’d have to spend hundreds more to find anything better. They pulled the richest sounds from OGG and Apple lossless files of anything we tested, with deep, clear separation and bass that’s lower than the Mariana Trench. They’re not up for marathon listening sessions, though; the ear pads feel the opposite of the smooth tones that pour from them.
WIRED: Mellifluous sound from nearly any file format. Thick cord stands up to repeated abuse. Handsome carrying case.
TIRED: Rough ear pads are brutally uncomfortable for some users.
Galaxy Audio EB10 Pro Dual Drive In-Ear Monitors, $280, GalaxyAudio.com
Rating: 8 out of 10
2. NOCS NS800
These low-profile slugs form a tight, almost symbiotic bond with your ear canal, scotching outside noises and transmitting sparkling tones. They sound like heaven, right? Sure, if your idea of bliss is light on bass. Deep lows are almost nonexistent, and the passive noise canceling can be a little disconcerting. Our advice? Rock these where it doesn’t matter if the external din is muffled to a whisper.
WIRED: Stainless steel construction is as handsome as it is durable. So comfortable you’ll actually look forward to wearing them. Simple, minimalist mic/remote combo.
TIRED: Hermetic seal kills too much ambient sound; it gets disorienting. Dude, where’s my bass?
NOCS NS800 Earbuds, $200, NOCS.com
Rating: 7 out of 10
Lightweights in heft but not quality, the UE700s were our top choice for the gym. The dainty pills insert neatly without closing off the outside world. We could hear shouts from a personal trainer (“Three more, prom queen!”) while getting down with some Wiz Khalifa. Audio quality is adequate in the low range but gets muddled in the mids. Highs are superb, though—as good as or better than anything else we tested.
WIRED: Lithe and extra portable. Generous ear-pad options ensure proper fit for everyone from kids to cauliflower-eared wrestlers.
TIRED: No volume control or mic on the (surprisingly flimsy) cord. Occasionally distracting levels of ambient noise.
Ultimate Ears 700 Noise-Isolating In-Ear Headphones, Starting at $100, Yahoo! Shopping
Rating: 6 out of 10
Yes, they’re two years old. But Apple’s dual-driver headphones are the cheapest decent ones we’ve found, and they crush the white iCruds included with every audio device coming straight outta Cupertino. The clear mids hold their own against the thump-heavy lows—great for, say, Wu-Tang or Wagner. But pop fans take note: The highest highs come out muddy.
WIRED: Stay planted firmly in ear even when jogging or sweating profusely. Responsive on-cord volume adjustment. Feather-soft silicone ear pads are easy to change.
TIRED: Trouble at the Aguilera end of the sound spectrum. White hue attracts grime and keeps it there.
Apple In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic, $80, Apple.com