Wednesday, November 7, 2012

An Anecdotal Review of Monoprice's In-Ear Headphones

I like good sound, but I don't like to pay a ton of money for it. So, I look for headphones that are inexpensive but that I can make sound good. "Good" to me means that I can hear all of the instruments in a fairly complex piece of music and that have enough frequency response that I can get decent highs and lows (even if it takes some equalization). As a drummer, highs and lows are most important to me, especially a nice dull thump from the bass drum without disturbing the rest of the instruments.

In other words, I prefer the drivers to not be overwhelmed by sudden peaks of energy. For me, this is most obvious in the presence of low frequency sounds just after the bass drum is hit.  If, for instance, during a bass drum kick the bass guitar drops out suddenly and just as suddenly restores or, in softer music, the normal echo of the inside of the bass drum after a kick is not present, it's an indication that the driver has been overwhelmed.  Doing a test like this with your favorite music is a great way to evaluate a sub woofer for a theater system by the way.

Finally, I am annoyed by added compression that brings the hard-to-reproduce frequencies into an easier-to-reproduce range because it makes it harder to make out the difference between a high hat roll or the strum of an acoustic guitar (Bose).  This probably won't be a problem in headphones under $20.

I'm not an audiophile.  I don't have a golden ear.  I don't have fancy equipment to objectively assess my findings.  The only expertise I have is that I am a musician using music I am extremely familiar with.  So, obviously, this is a completely subjective analysis.

Monoprice 8320 ($8)
All that being said, in the "sub $20" range, the Monoprice 8320 headphones are well known for being "audiophile quality" to budget consumers like me. I purchased them, and I agree. They sound great. But, the design hurts my outer ears - and, yes, I am wearing them correctly by wrapping them around the back of my ear.  I had the same problem with my old pair of Koss Cans (I think they are called "Pathfinder In-Ear Headphones" now).  The Koss headphones aren't cheap enough for this review, and they aren't nearly as good sounding as my favorite's here anyway.

So, I began my search for something that sounds just as good for the same price.  First up, I tried the Panasonic RP-HJE450 phones.  I searched Amazon for phones that got great reviews under $20, and these popped up. 
Panasonic RP-HJE450 $20

These Panasonic's fit really well, but that's about all they have going for them.  They have great frequency response, and the drums are incredibly clear, but there are NO mids.  It's hard to make out the vocals, and the very faint echo you can hear from the room the music was recorded in is totally lost which makes the audio sound artificial.  Equalizing up the mids really helps, so I'll keep them.  Explosions in movies make my eye balls shake.  So, there's that.  Also, the cable is more than 50% split so I found it catching on everything.

After that experience, I decided to go back to Monoprice and try out their other models.  First up, the Monoprice 8321s.
Monoprice 8321 $5
The difference between the 8320's and 8321's is more than 1 integer.  The specs on Monoprice's site are totally different, and it's obvious.  Regardless of how much you pump into these things, you will NOT be able to hear the bass drum resonate or anything that rings in the high end.  These might as well be the crappy headphones that came with your smartphone - useless for anything other than talk radio.


Monoprice 9398 $12
Monoprice 9397 $13
Monoprice 9396 $7

Finally, there are these three.  The 9396, 9397 and 9398.  The 98, despite having the largest product number is NOT the best sounding.  It has really good metal construction, but it's REALLY bass-heavy and muddy.  Granted, these are intended for "video gaming" so I guess gamers want to loose their low frequency hearing.  With equalization, these sound fairly good for $12, but in comparison to all of the other's in this review, and without equalization, these are nearly as bad as the horrible 8321s.  If you don't turn the bass down on those units, you will find the rest of the audio washed out due to the fact that there is only one driver in these, and all of the movement of the speaker is dedicated to billowing whale sounds into your brain.  They can probably be made to sound as good as the Panasonics with less equalization than the Panasonics.

The 97s have a slightly larger driver than the 98s and are a little bass-heavy.  They are excellent for under $15!  Way better than the Panasonics, or the 98s.

The 9396s sound even better!  Without any equalization, they sound almost as good as (maybe better than) the 8320s!  And, they are more comfortable than the 8320s.  The only real complaints I have are that they are cheaply constructed and it's hard to find which one is the left or right one.  I painted some white-out on the back of the right unit: problem solved.  I think I'll probably purchase a few of these 96's.

So, how do they stack up?  The 8320s and 9396s are the best sounding, but these 9396s are my favorite due to comfort.  The 8320s are my second favorite sounding and the 9397s are my second favorite over all.

Ranking:
  1. Monoprice 9396 - Possibly the best sounding.  The most comfortable from Monoprice.  Cheap construction (buy a few).
  2. Monoprice 9397 - Takes a little equalization to make the mids available.
  3. Monoprice 8320 - Probably the best sounding, but they hurt my outer ear.
  4. Panasonic RP-HJE450 - without equalization, the mids don't exist.  With equalization, there is enough response across the board to get really good sound.  The most comfortable overall.
  5. Monoprice 9398 - I could hear the music somewhere behind the bomb going off inside my head.  After equalization, amazing for $12.
  6. Monoprice 8321 - Seriously, you're paying more for shipping.  Go to the drug store and get some buds - they'll sound just as awful.

11 comments:

  1. you can adjust the sound according to the demand of the situation. So considering the price tag along with its performance, Tactic 3D Sigma is a good choice for any pro-gamer. replica beats by dre on sale

    ReplyDelete
  2. You comment on third place Monoprice 8320 (and now 9927/9960/9963) regarding the overall fit is very common.

    You can now get these bundled with Comply S-400 tips on eBay and Amazon.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have these Comply tips, but they don't help. The problem for me (as well as some other people I have shared these with) is that the part of the phones outside the ear is so large that it fixes the angle that the IEM part enters the canal. In many people's case, the angle isn't right and there is nothing we can do short of breaking the plastic. In my case, earphones must enter the ear canal up at an angle roughly 70 degrees from a line parallel to the ground. The 8320's appear to enter the ear much closer to 20 degrees. The other phones in my review don't suffer from this problem.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hello! Thanks for the sound review. However what no one seems to answer is whether or any of these ear buds have the volume and song advance functions.

    I have a Galaxy SIII and have the phones that came with it. They are tinny and not very good.

    I am however looking for an inexpensive set that has decent sound quality with the volume and song advance functions.

    Can you recommend something for me?

    ReplyDelete
  5. None of these headphones have buttons on them. But I have the SGS3, and it, along with most android phones, will work perfectly with the "Maxell HP-22" inline adapter that will turn any pair of headphones into phones with a button. Since they only have one button, I use an app called "HeadsetButton Controller" that allows me to assign events such as double and tripple tap to the button such as "fast forward" and "skip forward".

    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.kober.headsetbutton&hl=en

    ReplyDelete
  6. Just wondering, where did you find them this cheap?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Differlot, which ones are you having trouble finding? My favorites, the Monoprice 9396, are available for $7.41 here: http://www.monoprice.com/Product?c_id=108&cp_id=10823&cs_id=1082303&p_id=9396&seq=1&format=2

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks for reviewing the Monoprice 9927 earbuds. After reading several great reviews, I just got mine for iPod/iPhone use. I love the sound, but when my cords abrade my shirt, or get jostled a lot when walking, I can hear the reverb/interference noise (for lack of a better term) thru the earbuds. This never happens when using my Apple earbuds. Is this an occurrence others have dealt with? Maybe the Monoprice insulation is not as noiseproof as Apple $35 earbuds? Thanks again.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks for reviewing the Monoprice 9927 earbuds. After reading several great reviews, I just got mine for iPod/iPhone use. I love the sound, but when my cords abrade my shirt, or get jostled a lot when walking, I can hear the reverb/interference noise (for lack of a better term) thru the earbuds. This never happens when using my Apple earbuds. Is this an occurrence others have dealt with? Maybe the Monoprice insulation is not as noiseproof as Apple $35 earbuds? Thanks again.

    ReplyDelete
  10. This review is a little outdated. If you want some great earbuds, I suggest taking a look at the Wirecutter's review. I have their Brainwavz Delta's and they are much nicer than any of the IEMs I reviewed in this article. http://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-headphones-under-40/

    ReplyDelete

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