If you’re looking for the best in-ear headphones on a budget, get the Brainwavz Delta with Mic. After 32 hours of research on hundreds of in-ear headphones under $40, seriously considering 179, and testing 68 with our panel of audio experts, we found the Brainwavz Deltas are the best for the money. Our panel unanimously voted them the best-sounding of all the ones tested in this category, plus they fit comfortably in most ears, and are a steal at $22. They sound better than the Apple Earpods, so if you’re looking to upgrade or replace those, or want something decent and inexpensive, these are your best bet.
How Did We Choose What To Test?
After doing research on existing professional reviews, I looked to the user reviews on Amazon, Crutchfield, etc. to see what real people had liked and had come out since our last post.
We then brought in a faceoff panel consisting of audio professionals and musicians who were asked to listen and give me their top picks. From there we took into account price and features, and in the end, chose a winner.
You can find more details on our professional panelists and testing methods in the full version of this article.
What made the Brainwavz Delta so fantastic? One panelist summed it up best: “These are the only headphones under $25 that don’t sound like cheap headphones.” The highs are clear with good detail, the bass is well formed (with a slight bump in just the right area to add a lively kick to the beat), and the mids have a richness or lush, non-tinny aspect to the sound and a sense of depth of space that is uncommon in this price range. Translation: every kind of music sounds good on them.
Also, while most headphones around this price make music sound like it’s coming from inside your head, the Brainwavz have a sense of space that makes music sound more like a concert happening in front of you. The Delta also have an optional one-button remote and mic, so you can take calls and pull up Siri.
Another major part of why the Brainwavz work so well is their ability to fit various ear sizes and shapes. That’s not a given with in-ear headphones, and a good fit is vital for good sound quality. Getting a good fit is made easier as the Delta include three sizes of silicone tips plus a pair of Comply foam tips.
They’re not perfect, of course. If you’re accustomed to more expensive headphones, you’ll notice that the Delta have a bit of sizzle in the treble (somewhere around 4 kHz) that can cause crash cymbals or consonants to have a slight biting sound. And the mids, when compared to higher-end models, sound a bit coarse. (By that we mean guitars and piano can sound inauthentic in a way that you know they are coming from a speaker rather than real-life). But to get another sonic level up from the Delta, you’d need to spend at least $75.
A note on build quality: An early batch of Deltas released were prone to breaking. Brainwavz has fixed the issues in the Deltas currently available to buy, and have committed to replacing older models. Read more about this in our full guide.
Top 10 Tech Product Designs of 2014
Runner up (Still Fantastic)
Our runner up was our previous winner, the Panasonic RP-TCM 125 “Ergo Fit”. They have a nice overall balance with airy, mellow highs and present but not dominating bass. They sound just as good listening to acoustic guitar as they do hip hop and rock. They don’t have the detail and depth of the Brainwavz, but for $14, they’re really great. The TCM-125 have a single-button remote and mic and come in a variety of colors, too.
Bass lovers should check out the Sol Republic Jax. While these headphones aren’t for everyone (or every kind of music), they are great for rock, pop, and hip-hop. Our resident bass-head adored them, and said that they were his personal favorite overall. The bass is intense, and can verge on the edge of sloppy in music that requires detail (so jazz, classical, and folk lovers will want to skip these) but if you like to rock, these kick ass.
Non-sealed in-ears (“earbuds”)
If you absolutely need non-sealed in-ears (i.e. “earbuds”) for more situational awareness, the best we could find were the Sennheiser MX365. They sound better than the Apple EarPods, but they have scratchy foam pads and don’t sound anywhere near as good as our top picks. However, if non-sealed is something you need, the MX365 are your best bet.
Wrapping it up
Just because you don’t have a huge budget doesn’t mean you have to be satisfied with crappy sound. The Brainwavz Delta are more affordable than a new pair of Apple EarPods, sound better than anything else in this price range (including the EarPods), and can take calls and skip songs with the optional mic. Plus, at under $25, if they go missing, get chewed up by your dog, or get run through the laundry, you won’t cry yourself to sleep at night when you need to replace them.
If you want to step up a bit in sound quality (and it is a big step up), check out our $100 in-ear picks.
This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation, please go to The Wirecutter.com.
This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article above at TheWirecutter.com.
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