One of the reasons that noise-cancelling headphones tend to be so expensive is that they use sophisticated electronics to generate their own sound waves that can cancel out background noise such as the drone of an aircraft engine. Noise-isolating earphones take a much more low-tech approach. They simply use rubber or foam …
"Some of us use them on cycles, buses etc where they inevitably end up snagged and broken. Wouldn't want to risk £200 of my hard-earned like that. Just because you're music snobs doesn't mean everyone is."
You don't want to risk 200quid headphones, yet you're willing to risk your life by cycling wearing headphones, blocking out all traffic and other sounds that might give you an early warning? Epic fail.
P.S. +1 to everyone who mentioned El Reg's leaving out Ultimate Ears. Their (very good) budget Super.Fi 3 sets start at around $60-70USD, and it only goes up from there in quality (although it does in price as well).
cable noise solution
Someone mentioned the noise you get from in ear headphone cables catching on clothes etc. Ultimate Ears (and I suspect others) get round this by routing the cable over the top of your ear 'earthing' the effect of cable movement before it gets transmitted to your ears (sorry for the awful analogy). effectively the canalphones are upside down. This works really well for me, and helps keep them in my ears, plus it's easy to loosen one to talk to someone without it dropping away from your ear. Foot falls are still an issue when you're running though.
Hope this helps.
Iphone mic & remote
A few of these seem to be related to the iPhone (unsurprising given what came bundled with it). Moving from a Sony Ericsson walkman range phone I was wildly unimpressed at what I was expected to put into my ears.
After a fair bit of research and buying things that didn't work here's my top tip for people who want comfortable fit, decent quality for the price, works with iPhone, has mic, volume and button to play/skip track and answer/end calls that is light enough not to be annoying, all for under a tenner:
Buy an HPM 70 (or similar) set from ebay for approx £4 inc delivery) and throw away the bit that connects to a sony phone.
Search for "Stereo Handsfree Mic Headset Adapter for Apple iPhone" on ebay and get it for £3 inc delivery (I got mine from lee262onlineuk if that's any help.)
£7 all in and really decent quality for the price range (I reckon better that the apple in ear ones at 7 times the price.)
Far from making incompatible products, Apple tends to plan new features very carefully, and the volume control in the mic is a new feature. You can expect it to work with the next iPhone. It already works with the current Macbooks and iPod touch, even though it doesn't with earlier models.
Just to echo what other people have said
I've had a wide variety of earphones - all missing from the review (but there are a lot out there, and you can't review them all).
Best cheap earphones I've ever heard are the Sennheisers.
Best expensive ones are Ultimate Ears (5 Pros in my case) - although did need to buy 3rd party seals, as hated the default ones. Another nice thing is the cables are replacable (I killed my Shures (2 and 4s) on a regular basis by damaging the cable).
Not tried Etymotic though, so can't comment - many people seem to love them though.
I love my EX series 'phones
As reviewed by Which? They have a Mk II out and a rebadged version with iPhone controls - all > £35, but for headphones that previous started at £30 and are now down to £15-18 (for Mk I) they're UNBEATABLE!
Will leave you to Google - but good to get Sennheiser quality for such a decent price. They don't have to be pricey!
Oh and they come in white, black or pink...
Further on the quality thing
Yes, listening to 128kbps MP3s is going to sound rubbish compared to archive quality MP3 encodings, or better still FLAC.
To say these don't improve the sound is rubbish though, even with the poorer quality encodes. Compared to shitty earbuds you get with MP3 players, noise isolating earbuds will reveal a lot more detail, depth and bass. It's the way they seal up the ear and create a good aucoustic environment in your ear.
Fact is that even crap encodings are made worse with poor earbuds. However they will also reveal just how crap encoding is. It was decent earbuds that got me to rip all my CDs to FLAC and use archive quality encodings for MP3, because of all the artefacts I could suddenly hear. It also stopped me downloading or borrowing dodgy rips off other people and I buy CDs now to rip myself (wouldn't buy downloads either).
Treated to decent quality source though these things shine. In fact the argument goes the other way. Don't bother with high quality encodings if you use the cheap ear buds supplied with the gadget.
Oh, and to go a step further, look into Crossfeeding. That's where you can get a more accurate stereo sound from headphones (problem being that headphones isolate the channels to each ear creating an "in head" sound, and are not like speakers where the sound from both speakers actually hits both ears). This can also make listening to stereo music less tiring. Some MP3 players have this built in now, and can be found as plugins for many media players on computers. Rockbox (the open source alternative player for many MP3 players, inc iPod and iRiver) also supports it.
Anyway, don't knock 'em till you've tried 'em.
@ James Halliday and anybody on the fence
"I killed my Shures (2 and 4s) on a regular basis by damaging the cable"
Surely you're joking!
I've had Shure e2's for about 2 years now, same pair and they're still pumping away nicely!
I'm very surprised by your comment that the cord breaks because they use such a thick quality cord that i am confident I could strangle someone with them and not have to worry about breakage.
For any of you still on the fence and looking for a pair of in-ear canal-phones, Shures are the way to go.
They were making canal-phones for musicians and live music engineers before anyone knew what a "noise-isolating headphone" was. They are Personal "Studio Monitors" and were made for Musicians!
a) For hearing the subtleties of the music at a very LOUD live concert
b) For hearing instructions and communications at a very LOUD live concert
c) For protecting their most valuable asset (their ears) at a ........
d) For hearing the adjusted levels of your bandmates' riffs while standing next to a very LOUD acoustic drumset which can almost deafen you even without amplification.
So before most of these other manufacturers even existed, Shure was making professional studio audio equipment including the noise-isolating headphones.
I use the Shure e2 which i bought 2 years ago for $100 USD.
But if price is no limitation, there are the E5's which have TWO drivers in each ear-bud and you can go to an ear-doctor to get a mold made of your ear-canal and a silicone plug will be made unique to your ears!!! imagine having a 2-way speaker in your ear.......
oh if I only had the $$$$
Really worth spending more than £50? CX300 suit me!
Most people listen to ropey compressed MP3s through less than perfect systems like iPods and cheaper kit, so most people would be hard pushed to notice anything good after about the £50 mark. I listen to a lot of MP3 metal, a lot of old live bootleg stuff so I tend to stick to CX300s, the music source quality is dodgy at it's best anyway! Unless you are lucky enough to carry your CDs or own a very, very good FLAC player, don't bother!
CX300s are dirt cheap and reasonable quality, have scoot around eBay or Amazon new/used section, usually get a new pair for about a tenner plus postage.
On your recommendation I bought the Verbatim headphones a couple of days ago - but seriously guys, they are just dreadful!
No treble and much too much bass, almost to the point of being muffled. For the first time ever I had to use the equalizer on my machine in order to get decent sound. Did any of you try these headphones with classical music?
Another one to check out
What about Koss Plugs?
My review would be: Less than £15 and incredible bass and they come with a lifetime warranty. You need to work out how to insert them properly. As soon as you do, you get the booming bass and you understand why they're good.
Negative: They fall out quite easily.
A few times I've sent them off to the UK distributor (Hama), included three or four quid, and I've got a shiny new pair back in the post. Sweet!
Anyone that spends over £50 for a pair of earphones is either very very rich, or very very idiotic.
And on a related note, very few people care how good Shure SE310s are, £170 is not affordable for a sodding pair of earphones!
+1 for koss plugs
Cheap as chips, and don't sound bad, but the falling out is a bit of a pain. Also I am prone to wax buildup and these end up looking moderately unpleasant. I also like the CX200s (as my phone has a 2.5mm jack). Am buying some CX300s right this second to try 'em out. £14 seems like you can't go too far wrong.
But no one has followed up on someone's point above about rustling noise from cords. On my CX200s, if they rub against my zip, it's very loud.