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Sound isolating earphones - also known as Ear Canal Headphones(ECH's) or In Ear Monitors (IEM's) These earphones are placed into the ear canal and effectively seal your ear with their small rubberised ear-tip sleeve. They are small, lightweight and very portable.
Sound isolating earphones are not to be confused with ear bud headphones that sit loosely in your outer ear. The major advantage of sound isolating headphones is that they keep the audio inside your ear and the noise outside - they isolate your ear from the outside world by upto minus 20dB. This means you can be sitting on a train, bus or aeroplane with very little distraction.
The in ear monitor earphone was originally developed for musicians to protect their hearing whilst being able to listen to the rest of the band at a sane volume level.
Many people use sound isolating earphones while exercising, but some comment that they can hear any impact on the body as a dull thud inside their ear. This can also occur if the earphone lead is knocked. This is caused by the fact that the sound isolating material over the tip is transmitting the sound more directly to the ear drum.
Important note about safety while listening: Sound isolating earphones prevent you from hearing noises around you can be dangerous if listening while running, cycling, skiing or any activity where you need awareness of the people and objects around you. While listening with sound isolating earphones you really are audibly isolated from the external world and need to rely completely on your visual senses.
We are big fans of sound isolating headphones. In our opinion this design offers the best quality sound for every day portable use, especially if you are travelling or on the move. The fact that you are able to listen in isolation from outside noise, without the electronic processing utilized by noise cancellation headsets, means you get a clarity that is hard to beat. In addition the convenience of a small set of earphones that you can pack away at a moments notice is a big advantage over larger headphones if you are on the move.
Sound isolating headphones are great for commuting as you can relax and enjoy what you are listening too while there is noise around you. They are also great for travelling by aeroplane as the engine noise is almost completely blocked by the earphone isolation tips.
We often recommend sound isolating earphones over noise cancelling headphones for travelling as the audio quality can be dramatically better due to the lack of distortion added by the active electronics in a noise cancelling headset.
If you are looking for a high quality pair of sound isolating earphones it is well worth checking out the Shure SE earphone range or Ultimate Ears sound isolating earphone range.
Below is a selection of ideas for in-ear sound isolating earphones that we can recommend:
A good entry into the in ear sound isolating category is the very popularSennheiser CX300-II in ear headphone , which is actually a hybrid of the humble ear bud and the full blown ear canal earphone. The CX300 actually seals just outside the ear canal, rather than inside.
The CX300 is a great quality headphone for the price (RRP is £39.99). While the sound quality won't blow you away, they are a big improvement over standard iPod ear buds.
Some find the CX300's bass a little undefined and overpowering, but at this price point there isn't much good competition.
Klipsch have been steadily releasing some truly excellent earphones over the last couple of years, and the Klipsch Image S4 is no exception. Compare the Image S4 (RRP £69.99) with many other earphones in the same price range and you may be surprised how far ahead of the field Klipsch are.
The Klipsch Image S4 sounds very balanced, with nice warm bass response and excellent clarity of trebles. They have a very dynamic sound that suits all styles of music.
We really like the snug in-ear fit, which seems to be due to the excellent quality silicone ear tips and the round-the-corner design of the earphone nozzle. The ear tips are oval shaped (similar to the shape of the ear canal), which Klipsch are so proud of that they have patented the design. This all ensures a proper seal in the ear, which is vitally important with IEMs. Without a good seal the sound will be very thin and tinny, due to low frequency (bass) leakage.
If you're upgrading from the standard iPod earbuds, the Klipsch Image S4 is guaranteed to to impress with it's dynamic sound and comfortable in-ear fit. Highly recommended.
If you are prepared to spend more on your headphones then the Ultimate Ears Super.fi 3 Studio is an excellent introduction to the world of higher end in-ear canal sound isolating headphones (with a modest RRP of £69.99).
With a name that is frankly a bit of a mouthful (you can ell the Californian marketing team got a bit carried away) this set of ear canal headphones offer a very accurate and clean sound that will open your ears to a new level of detail that is not discernible with cheaper headphones. If you are a basshead you may find you are wanting more low end kick.
The innovative Sleek Audio SA6 secured a first in earphone design with the possibility of customising the audio response to match the individuality of your ears and musical tastes. Sleek Audio call it finding your audio fingerprint. It's a great idea and it actually works. These miniature earphones are also very comfortable and easy to fit due to their diminutive size.
It's at this price point where ear canal headphones get really interesting, the sonic improvements become dramatic and of course the headphones get more expensive. The Sleek Audio SA6 comes in at a RRP of £149.99.
In contrast to the approach taken by dual driver designs such as the Ultimate Ears Super.fi Pro 5and Shure SE420, the Sleek Audio SA6 is a single wideband driver design. The result is a very balanced sounding earphone. In fact we feel that the sound from the SA6 is more balanced than the similarly priced dual driver designs. Sleek Audio claim this is due to the lack of crossover electronics, which is required for dual driver designs.
The Sleek Audio SA6 sounds very impressive, with an excellent level of musical detail and a punchy bass response. The SA6 is an excellent choice for upgrading an iPod or MP3 player and can be driven without a dedicated headphone amplifier, although reports on the Head-Fi forums suggest that a headphone amp extends the bottom end and highs very nicely.
The SA6 is well built and comfortable for everyday use, with replaceable cables, and offers well balanced sound reproduction across the entire audio range. In our opinion the SA6 definitely deserves the title of best mid-priced in ear sound isolating headphone.
The top of the range Ultimate Ears Triple.fi 10 Pro is a truly incredible set of in ear sound isolating headphones, but don't come cheap with a RRP of £229. The three drivers of the UE Triple.fi 10 Pro provide amazing clarity and definition, from the deepest bass notes right through the upper registers.
The UE 10 Pro earphones are fitted upside down with the cable running over the ear. The cables are malleable and hold the earphones securely over your ear. This fitting system works really well for most people and means they can even be used for sports such as running and jogging.
If you are serious about your music then the UE Triple.fi 10 Pro will satisfy your craving for the best possible quality earphones you can get your hands on.