Around 2012, I fell in a love with a pair of headphones called the Sony XBA 3, so much so that I bought 3 pairs of them at approximately 250 a pop. The reason why I bought 3 was one for me, and 2 others were Christmas gifts. Prior to purchasing them I had been researching online and the only other pair of in-ears I could really say bang for buck was a relative equivalent would be the Shure SE 535 which was about $450 CAD. This broke my heart, because as much as I love to invest in to headphones, if I ever lost these and I would not be able to replace them easily due to finances. (If they were accidentally damaged however, the good thing is, Shure has this accidental coverage program where, if they were stepped on, drowned, as long as it was accidental and not abuse, they would replace them.) So when I stumbled upon the Sony XBA series, I was blown away, and at that price, while I would still be sad if I lost them, it wouldn’t be so heartbreaking to replace them. Additionally, Sony too had accidental coverage, though for a small fee of 50 dollars for 3 years.
Fast forward a year and a half later, the XBA 3s were still an Every-Day-Carry and I loved them, I lost a couple of the generic rubber/silicon tips so those had to be replaced but in general, I was still in l love with them. One day whilst perusing for a good deal in anything really… I found out a pair of XBA 4ip was on sale for ($150) and I quickly snatched them up. This has been the best deal to date for me because the price was cheaper by a $100, it had not 3 -but 4 drivers, and a microphone with controls made for an IPhone, this was a win-win situation! That same XBA 4ip has been my main every-day-carry for the last little bit, it’s travelled Southeast Asia and Australia with me, and has been a great companion on my commutes on public transit; after all the years of service, the paint finally has started to peel off, the headphone jack had to be replaced, and I needed to buy rubber earbud tips on multiple occasions. Safe to say, if I wanted to cherish them a little bit longer I needed to replace them as my EDC.
Decision time for me to save my XBA’s for home use and pick up a proper replacement came in April 2017. My criteria’s were very general and for the most part, what I believe most people would ask for in a pair of in-ear headphones. 1 –Sound Quality has to be close to the XBA, I know the sound range will be impossible to beat but it had to be close, 2 –It needs to be robust and designed well enough that I can use at the gym, on the train, and bus. 3 –Isolation. I don’t believe that ANC (Active Noise Cancelling) technology is a good way to listen to music. I am somewhat opposed to it as I think it may put more stress on the ear drum using it than not.
So, I did a little bit of research and I told myself I would only buy them if they were under $150 as I didn’t want anything too fancy, it needed to still have the same or similar sound quality, proper and robust design for everyday use, proper isolation for better sound quality and of course back the price point of 150 or under. So for an entire day I took a good long search, and after 4-5 hours narrowed them down. I bought them all in one day, because I really wanted to test out the best of the best the market had to offer in this price range; and while I had to wait for the Sennheisers (they came in a week later) it was all purchased relatively at the same time. Each pair had a burn in time of 12 hours overnight (what a huge difference it makes) and I started testing pretty much for two weeks straight, using each one for an entire day and picking the ones I like the most at the end of the week for a couple more days.
tldr: Sony XBA 3/4IP are my favourite in-ear, after years of use; started to look for new in-ears recently. Had 4 criteria’s I needed to satisfy: 1 -Sound Quality, 2 –Design and Robustness, 3 –Isolation, 4 –Price Point.
These are the headphones I picked up:
YurBuds Signature Series ITX-1000. Rated fairly decent 3.5 out of 5 on most reviews; they were the cheapest, being on sale at $56 CAD after taxes. It had Twistlock technology that prevented the ear buds from falling out while doing any sort of rigorous physical activities, a soft rubber tip that would prevent your ears from getting hurt if it was ever yanked out, and a metallic woven cord that was sweat proof. They are designed for athletes in mind and are manufactured by JBL.
Marshall Mode EQ. One of the nicest looking pair of headphones. The ratings for these were high, at an average of 4.5 out of 5 on most websites, I lucked out and purchased these for $90 CAD after taxes. The build quality is solid. And it allowed you to switch the EQ from Rock to Pop.
Sennheiser Momentum M2 IEi. Rated 5 out of 5 on most sites I was actually very skeptical about the reviews and I had the most biases against them as the reviews were extremely high. One website said there were no cons whatsoever. Sennheiser has always been very good at what they do, but I felt like this product may have been over hyped. Boy was I wrong. The price on these were on sale at $90 CAD after taxes.
Test Set-up and Results.
So the setup I used to test and burn in was through my Iphone using EQU (Elephant Candy Equalizer) and then tested them again with a Sony mp3 Walkman and Sony MD with no compression.
So here’s the run-down of how each of these faired.
Horrible. Why? Sound quality sucked, not only was it seriously lacking bass, but because of how deep the tips were and the Twistlock technology my ears actually hurt trying to put them on. Once they were in, it was hard to take them out for sure, but I am not about to spend 20 mins trying to put them on in the morning making sure I twist the right direction and making sure it was the fit. I will say this though. It came in a pouch, and the cord it was made of was built properly. Those are the only redeeming qualities of this product. I can see why they were so deeply discounted, the store probably had to move the merchandise and get rid of it as quickly as possible.
Marshall Mode EQ.
Not bad, I think it was decent, and for the right person maybe even great. I was hoping for much better isolation as the rubber tips were either too small or too big.
Every time I used the bigger tips it would seal the ear canal but then there was a crackling sound as you pushed them into the ears and that freaked me out; because, one of two things were happening, the air was either pushing against the ear drum/ membrane and making the crackling noise or, it was damaging whatever membrane was in the earbuds; either way a membrane was getting wrecked and that wasn’t something I wanted to deal with. I will say this though. The build quality is probably the highest of the 3, it beats out the Sennheiser by a bit because it has just a bit more detail and doesn’t have the feel of mass produced. It just generally felt more robust and I appreciated the details in the design. Personally I wanted these Marshall in-ears to blow me a way, but because it couldn’t properly make a seal and isolate, the sound quality was compromised. Also, Marshall made the decision to be universal between Apple and Android by not putting volume controls on the remote essentially rendering the remote useless unless all you want to do was “Play/Pause” or switch between Rock and Pop.
Sennheiser Momentum M2 IEi.
Last but not least, the Sennheiser Momentum M2 IEi. These are by far the best performing in ears I’ve had bang for buck. I pitted them against the Sony XBA 4ip and in many cases the Sennheisers lose but with such slight differences I could still say yes to them as a replacement. The noise isolation on these bad boys are superb, better than the Sony.
Where the Sony excels is in the range, the bass is deeper, cleaner and vocals shine throughout range, the sound stage is expansive, and all the drivers work simultaneously to give you a proper balanced sound. Only thing is, you will only really notice this in a quiet setting, because the noise isolation is lacking and on the train or bus, the ambient noises still cut through. The Sennheiser, creates a proper seal one which feels like you’re wearing earplugs and once the music comes on, the drivers give such clean mid to high tones and a deeper bass than most other 150 dollar in-ears, you wonder if there is really only one driver in the unit. There is a little bit of sloppiness in the lower and higher ranges but it’s so minute I would have to say most people would not tune into it unless they knew that is what they were looking for. My only qualm and it is a very small qualm, is I wished there was a clip. The cord is extra-long and a
clip along with a wire wrap is needed to just keep the cord from getting in the way. Besides that, there are no cons with this earphone and I am happy to say that they have now become my every day carry.
**My camera takes a really weird approach to sheen and shine of fabric materials. I apologize for the crude pictures.
3 Months Later:
I am happy to say the Sennheisers are still my EDC. I do have to say though, there is a couple things that bug me enough to update this post. The first is reverberation and the sloppiness of the extreme ranges, a lot of the music I listen to is Orchestral, and these musicians show case their talents by accentuating the sounds and taking advantage of the range of sounds their vocals and instruments can perform in. This performance is compromised as soon as the bass or treble is too extreme. Cellos sound warped and wavy and same with higher pitched vocals and while it is probably not noticeable to most, I found it annoying once I honed in on a solo only to hear distorted sounds. The thing to note is, for the masses, these in-ears will do well with pop songs, rap and most rock because you’re no longer listening to music played to showcase the technical skills or talent of a musician but of an entertainer or lyrical artist. The dynamic range and soundstage requirements are no longer needed, and therefore these in-ears are well suited. The other gripe I have was the in-ear tips, while they were amazing to listen to, I lost two sets of tips as I pulled them out of my pocket on public transit. They don’t tend to stay on very well and I now know why there was such a nice carrying case that same with them. I’ve switched the tips to in-ear memory foam about 2 months ago and haven’t had a problem since. I think they just grip the nozzle better, isolation is also nicer with the memory foam but the feel and texture of them takes a little getting used to and of course it was an added extra cost.
7 Months Later:
I just threw the Sennheisers into the dryer, and steam cleaned them. BY MISTAKE. They came out all wrinkly and curly. It still works, the wire is definitely a hassle now; but at least I know they can take extreme temperatures. I guess I’ve unintentionally taken them through a stress/robustness test that many are wondering but are too afraid to do.. Here are the last and latest pics of what they look like. Notice how the memory foam has gotten a little frayed and fuzzy.