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"Best Headphones under $100" Thread

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Original Topic by Aeriyn of Minidisc Community Forums:

Best Headphones Under $100 US

I don't make a lot of money but I managed to get into the hi-fi lifestyle and it did not cost a fortune. Everyone knows that Head-Fi is bad for your wallet, which is definitely true and is the reason for my extended absence from those forums (along with World of Warcraft, haha). Anyhow, I thought I'd like to share this little piece with you folks at the MDCF as a sort of "I'm coming back and I'm done pouting" thread. =P

Okay, how I'm going to do this is in four parts separated by type of headphone. If any of you folks have a headphone that you'd like to add to the list, feel free to send a message to kurisu or nismo96.

Let's get started. Please note that all prices here are street prices, not retail. Brick and mortar stores tend to sell these for more than the prices I list. Use Froogle, young Skywalker. eBay is also a good place to find these phones.

::Earbuds (open intra-aural)::

These are the headphones most people think of when thinking of portable audio. Problem is, there is a metric buttload of bad earbuds and people buy them all the time. Fortunately for us, there are a few great earbuds that are not that expensive.

Sennheiser MX400/MX500 - $11-15

These guys are really, really great for the price. Xin Feng raves about these headphones and says they are the best portable phones "anyone can buy." I tend to agree with him; they are simply the best under $20 headphones I have ever heard, period. The MX400 are actually the best to get here because they lack the little attenuator which degrades sound, and they are five dollars cheaper on average. They are harder to find (nigh-impossible in a brick and mortar store) but they are the better of the two. MX500s are still nothing to sneeze about if you can deal with the little volume slider catching on things (which it tends to do). Neither of these earbuds have a lot of bass so if that's the type of sound you are looking for, I suggest you look elsewhere.

Sony MDR-E888LP/SP - $45

To my ears these are the best earbud type headphones under $100, sound quality wise. They have a very nice warm and detailed sound signature with surprisingly lush midrange. They are rather fragile though and tend to start sounding bad after about a year of heavy use, and I find the "neck-chain" type cord to be very annoying as the right-side driver tends to pull out of your ear when being active. They come in the remote-friendly short cord style as well as the normal length cord, which is very convenient for users of MiniDisc.

Audio-Technica ATH-CM3 - $60

To my knowledge, Audiocubes is the only e-tailer that sells these outside of Japan. They have a nice sound to them but lack the bass impact of the E888s. They come in many different colors and it's fairly obvious that Audio-Technica designed these phones for use with iPod/iPod Mini since the colors match up perfectly. Somewhat plasticky highs prevent these from being my favorite earbud headphone (the honors there go to the E888s).

::IEMs/canalphones (closed in-ear)::

Sony MDR-EX71SL - $40

The ubiquitous EX71s... love 'em or hate 'em is the prevailing attitude. Personally, I kinda like these phones. They're totally low-fi... bloated bass and midbass, recessed midrange, exaggerated highs, but they sound "groovy." These are the budget groovalizers of canalphones and it shows in their sound. These phones benefit TREMENDOUSLY from burn-in; I used to hate them to death but I've recently listened to a pair that my best friend Nika has had for over a year and I was shocked at how groovy they sounded. After a good lengthy burn in period, these phones can compete with MD33s and E2cs in the realm of low-priced canalphones. Recommended, but make sure to burn them in for around 100-200 hours before serious listening. Like the MD33s, these do not isolate very well and fit is fairly loose. The annoying "neck-chain" cord comes back again and tends to pull the right-side phone out of one's ear when not using a remote. Also, the supplied extension tends to make the cord fairly long to the point of being difficult to manage. A carrying case/cord wrapper is included with them, fortunately.

Sharp HP-MD33S - $50

Again, the only e-tailers that carry these Japanese-made phones are Audiocubes and bluetin.com. However, these are perhaps the best "overall" canalphones for under $100. The E2cs come close but cannot hold up against the MD33's better sound without the use of EQ. They do not isolate very well just like the EX71s, but they do have a nicer, more detailed sound than the EX71s. These aren't exactly groovalizers but they're fairly close to the EX71's sound signature, with less bass, better mids and they're less bright. Just like the EX71s and it seems all MD-designed phones, they're "neck chain" style which causes problems and the extension cord is far too long. Please note that these phones have a proprietary dual-mono miniplug when used without the extension which is only compatible with Sharp Auvi MD players. Modding them for standard operation is simple enough; search Head-Fi for "MD33 mods."

Shure E2c - $65

These are the some of the best under-100 phones availabile... IF you can EQ them properly. Un-equalized, these phones are terribly dark and muddy with no discernable highs and way too prominent bass. I do not suggest using these with iPods or with any MD unit or DAP that does not have a good parametric EQ. They are extremely well-built; these phones are like tanks. The cord is nearly three times the thickness of standard portable phone cords and the right-angle miniplug is appropriately bulky and tough. There's not much style with these phones; they resemble large, old-fashioned hearing aids when inserted into the ears. Shure has found a wonderful solution to the problems of cable microphonics by wrapping the cord up over top of the ear, preventing vibrations in the cable from traveling up to the earpieces. It really works well actually. These IEMs isolate very well with both the foamies and the silicone sleeves although the foamies do a much better job. The silicone sleeves are rather painful at first, but after using them for a few weeks, the oils in your skin permeates the silicone material and softens it up considerably. At first I wasn't able to use the silicone sleeves but after a few weeks of using them I got to where I liked them better than the foamies.

Etymotic ER-6 (not ER-6i) - $70

I've seen the original version of the ER-6 being sold for this price on the internet several times. Supposedly there's something that makes the original ER-6 worse than the new 6i, but I'm not sure what it is. The ER-6, to me, is the poor man's ER-4P. They don't exactly sound the same... in fact the ER-4P is much, much better, but these phones still have the same Etymotic sound signature... light on the bass, good midrange and fabulously detailed highs. These phones are the exact opposite of the Shures in sound signature. They are not nearly as rugged as the E2cs and more care must be taken when handling them. They come with two types of sleeves, tri-flange silicone and foam. The tri-flange sleeves are automatic ear-destroying torture devices... personally, I can't stand them. The foamies are much better although the tri-flanges isolate better. The foamies tend to muddy the sound a bit, which in this case is good, since the ER-6 has highs and detail to spare. The foamies soften the sound a bit which I liked.

Future Sonics EM3/Sennheiser IE3 - $100

A face only a mother could love... these phones take the ER-4P/S's title for "ugliest IEM ever created." However, as I've had a chance to listen to these at my local musician's store (I was shocked they carried them) I've been firmly convinced that these are the best canalphones ever. They have a sound signature that is a happy medium, to my ears, between the Shure E5c and the Etymotic ER-4S. I'm not shitting you. They sound like super EX71s, or a canalphone version of Beyerdynamic DT440s. They are the king groovalizer of canalphones. Of course, not everyone will like this type of sound but for those that do, these are a great pair of phones. Future Sonics sells them for $99 every so often (retail price is $159) and when they do, scooping up a pair is always a good idea. I'm set to buy myself a pair of these as soon as I get some disposable income. On another note, these seriously are the ugliest phones ever created... painted a neutral beige color throughout with no attempt at style or design; these phones are very obviously designed for stage monitor use. However, they worked wonderfully with my iPod Mini at the musician's store. Also, the ugliness of these phones is a great theft deterrent. XD

::Portable/Clip-on supra-aural::

Koss KSC 60ohm driver - $15-40

Koss makes a whole lot of really bad phones, but they made one driver, the 60 ohm driver used in their KSC-35 and KSC-75 clip on phones, Porta Pro/Sporta Pro and UR40 phones that is really very good. They're slightly on the bass heavy side and there's noticeable rolloff in the treble, but not as bad as Shures. Any of the Koss phones that utilize their 60 ohm driver is always a good budget choice. The ironic thing about this driver is that it becomes a savage beast of impact and roaring lows when amped. There are people who will use these $15 phones with $500 portable amps such as Ray Samuels' SR-71. These phones are seriously incredible for the money especially if you are a basshead. Add an inexpensive cMoy amp to these or one of Xin Feng's Supermini amps, and you've unleashed the beast.

Sennheiser PX100/200 - $50-60

I haven't heard these myself but many others have. The PX100 seems to be the standard for portable-use supra-aural headphones. Compact and foldable with plenty of style, the impressions I get from owners of the PX100 and PX200 are that these are fairly bassy phones. I can't really say much about them as I've never listened to them myself, but they always seem to be an old standby.

::Full-size supra/circum-aural::

Grado SR-60 - $60

The best headphones for rock under $100, period. These are the groovalizers of Grado, being both inexpensive and having the signature Grado rock-friendly sound. At 32 ohms impedance with a fairly high sensitivty, they are some of the best unamped phones available as well. I personally don't have a lot of experience with these cans, but the few times I listened to the pair I bought my brother, I was really impressed with them for alternative rock and classic rock, which is all he listens to. I found them to not be so good for the brighter 80's female vocals, J-Pop and J-Rock I tend to listen to, however--my Beyers toasted them in that aspect.

Audio-Technica ATH-A500 - $99

These cans are 90% of the A900s at 50% of the price. I have not listened to the A900s myself, but that is the typical phrase associated with the A500. These closed full-sized headphones, to my ears, are some of the best headphones you can use unamped. The addition of an amp offers small subtle improvements, nothing like what amping other phones tends to do. I personally don't like the sound signature of these phones, but then again I'm a groovalizer girl, and the A500s are nothing like DT440s.

AKG K240S - $90

The "new groovalizers," these phones have not been listened to by yours truly yet, but I intend to get my hands around a pair as soon as I feasibly can. Owner reports suggest that they have the typical groovalizer sound signature paired with AKG's famous lovely midrange, but slightly rolled off in the treble. These cans are well-made and lightweight, very comfortable even though I'm sure that pleather pads would get annoying after a while on a pair of open headphones. Not sure why AKG didn't use velour pads.

Sony MDR-CD780 - $99

Yet another headphone I once owned briefly. These have an interesting if bright sound signature. They're fairly comfortable and not very heavy either. They have the typical Sony stylish look to them, but the way they stick out makes the attempt at style sort of fall on its face. Anyhow, I found these phones to be reasonably good for industrial and metal but I didn't like how they were for J-Rock/Pop.

Yes, I know that's not very many, but most of these are ones I've either used or ones that are standby recommendations for newcomers into the headphone world.

Anyone want to add to the list, sent chris or nismo or myself a message. I'd rather this thread stay clean; keep additions to the list to PMs please.

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How about the Sony MDR-XD series?

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Well I just found this Atraclife forum when I was searching Firmware update for my new NW-HD5 black, so I'm still catching up in the threads to be scanned.

So, I have few opinions about the headphones, 'cause I own a few in that list above.

Yes, the Grado SR 60 really sounds good, I have had those three years and still best sounding devices with any Sonys portable.

Senheiser, well... mostly over priced plastic for portables, except those very affordable and simple Sennheiser PX100 that sounds great for that price, wich are also quite comfortable in the 'long run'. A year old pair still sounding nice...!

AKG, hmm... Tested with my portables few that is said to sound very good, yes the sound is OK but most of those are too hungry for Sonys portables. Many AKGs are good for mastering some tracks with a real mixer table. I bought quite cheap K-55 for my portables few months ago, because those were advertized as OK closed headphones. But I can't make a good comment about those. Luckily those were very cheap...

Sonys headphones, well... few of those sounds very good in portables, but sadly the plastics wont survive long... Had few in the past, but Grado's robustines won the competition, with exelent winter condition durability.

And then comes the Behringer HPS3000 headphones. The pricing is amazing compared to the sound quality, at least in the northern europe 23eur. I advice test listening these headphones if there is a chance, only bad thig is the 1/4" TRS stereo jack that is not suitable for most portables. I have made an high quality adapter for that broblem... but that's a very different story.

Yeah, KOSS Porta Pro headphones are also good sounding, except those have quite much Bass, but it is not bad at all. Mostly KOSS headphones aren't good in my ears, maybe it's just me...?

that is only my little experience in head-fi world, but the bottom line is: If youre gonna compress the music in any way, you shouldn't spend too much money into the hi-end headphones, because you might hear what you are missing in the sound... :ol_lol:

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I agree with the last email.

You can't expect to get earth shattering quality of you have compressed the music to smithereens - BUT mild some compression can be a good thing and the right phones make the world of difference.

I use & Atrac3+ 64KBps compression and I use Sennheiser HD-270 Monitor headphones.

They are closed and GREAT for listening on the street or train. They cancel out most of the ambient noise but let you hear the truck before it runs you over.

Also allows you to be aware when someone calls you because you have dropped something on the road. It shields you however so that people can have conversations right next to you on a busy and very noisy train and you can still listen to the 3rd row violin in your classical music or the subdued high hat in the house track. The base is REAL rather than imagined and you can FEEL it.

In short - They put you in the room.

You are either in the club/studio or concert hall - Wherever you are.

In addition you don't have to have them on the highest volume as you are cancelling out other noises so don't need to have your music shout over everything else to get to your brain. A subtle volume helps you appreciate the mood of the music. Chill out music is really impacting - you can hear all the instruments and the smooth ambiances - the feel of the sound.

These headphones are not everyone's favourite and they are not the best that money can buy.

They are however the best that £90 can buy if you want closed headphones to use when listening on trains, planes or automobiles(so long as you are not driving)

The clincher for these is comfort.

Most closed headphones form a vice round our head.

Most large headphones generally seem to have been designed to see how much discomfort you can take.

The Sennheiser HD-270 Monitor are different. As you wear them they get more and more comfortable. They are so comfortable that I have on more than on occasion of wearing them for more that 3 hours straight FORGOTTEN that they were there. PRIMARILY I can feel is the music - SECONDARILY I can feel the headphones on my head.

They are just brilliant.

The Amazon reviews are here and make good reading: Amazon.com page for Sennheiser HD270 MONITOR

Have a read and see what you think.

:ol_smile:

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Well, i will add Koss KTX Pro's to the walkman phones (rather than 'buds') list, and i am referring to the original ones (all black, not the later KTX Pro 1 series that were silvery finished).

They performed pretty well on the old D-NE1, and like with the higher imp phones, the vol had to be compensated to suit (as you would expect), but because they were pretty responsive (way above the league of most 'buds' and even the expensive stuff) and quite efficient, the boost needed was not substantial even on a bus/train.

The KTX Pro's were also my 'monitor' phones i used with the Cat Test's i did for iRiver unofficially.

If you need fair quality (remember, most people are talking walkman phones money, not AP market prices, for not-sh*t usable quality) then i would say that the MDR-V series (i used the 300's) aint too bad - wouldn't chose them over my EH2200's (for indoor use), but they are a nice compromise for non-bud phone solutions.

Ironicially enough, and i suspect this may raise the odd eyebrow, my absolute fav cans used with Sony kit so far are....

*drum rolls.. cue cat ducking for cover, least the AP's of the forum stone him for blashphemy*

Speedlink Medusa 5.1 cans, using the plug in 2 channel adaptor so they act as multi-driver stereo speakers (in other words, each can has a tweeter and midrange and woofer and subwoofer in each can).

I am referring to the analogue version (the ones that require a discrete analogue outputs for surround sound mode when connected to approp equipment) by the way :P

Now i was just doing a test with the NW-NH1, using some 256K recordings (taken from WMA Q100 LSL's that i know very well, and hence would very predicatble in their repro).

Ok, as you would expect, the Med's would need a bit of a vol boost due to the driver arrangement they have (the supplied amp, that comes with them, for taking the discrete 5.1 feeds off suitable kit and feeds the output to a multi-way din type connector, is quite a meaty lil amp anyway), so 'phones output' mode (setting on the player) may dissapoint.

But the trick is to... switch output to 'line', and use the inline discrete vol adjusters on the lead of the 5.1 phones to compensate.

You get a taste (despite the impedence mismatch) on the proper 'phones out' setting of the deck of what it might sound like to have multi-way speakers inserted in your cans, but use it in line-out mode, and repeat, and wow... :D

All i will say is (and i paid about 40 UKP for mine, thanks to a nice discount i won myself), for indoor use, the cat is definately purring using them in line-connected use, you can even hear the subbies kicking in and out when the sound drives them - War of the Worlds is something else to hear.. you gotta listen to it.. it'll speak for itself through those cans.

Not a portable solution, i admit, but if you wanted a multi-purpose set of cans (they have a mic boom too) to use with your walkman on the train to and from work, be able to use them for conferencing on your work PC, and also have 5.1 for movie/audio playback, then the Medusa 5.1's are nice all-rounders, and not silly money either :)

I'll try them on the D-NE1 and D-NE20 in the morning and give some feedback to see if the results of the MD playback tie up with 256K decodes on the CDP's.

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iyareu.. interesting to see someone write about 64k decode as heard on those more HQ phones..

Interesting, i say, as it's not the norm to hear someone talk about their pleasent experiences using such extremes in combination.

But i def agree that the use of good phones can make all the diff - they are a double edged sword in the sense they can make some encodings sound crap (and that is usually literally then proven to be the use of extreme encoding compression where the audio itself really needed much less extreme encoding to even come close to halfway decent repro), but they do tend to (decent phones) prove a lot of what people are mislead to believe about lower range bitrate encodings to be kinda on the borders of BS of the highest order.

True, personal taste and tolerence comes much into play here, but hey.. good on you for braving the use of lower-rate encodings with decent cans, and if they make your inner cat spirit purr contently, then you aint doing nothing wrong and should be recognised for your preference :)

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iyareu.. interesting to see someone write about 64k decode as heard on those more HQ phones..

Interesting, i say, as it's not the norm to hear someone talk about their pleasent experiences using such extremes in combination.

But i def agree that the use of good phones can make all the diff - they are a double edged sword in the sense they can make some encodings sound crap (and that is usually literally then proven to be the use of extreme encoding compression where the audio itself really needed much less extreme encoding to even come close to halfway decent repro), but they do tend to (decent phones) prove a lot of what people are mislead to believe about lower range bitrate encodings to be kinda on the borders of BS of the highest order.

True, personal taste and tolerence comes much into play here, but hey.. good on you for braving the use of lower-rate encodings with decent cans, and if they make your inner cat spirit purr contently, then you aint doing nothing wrong and should be recognised for your preference :)

Thank You!!

Interesting is the right word.

I have been using 64k for a while now.

I started out using 48 and but moved to 64 when I couldn't hear the music almost at all for some tracks - both the low and top end lost everything.

I have used my VP at conferences and many party type occasions where people there want to dance or just listen to lound music.

I also use it in my work which requires that I play music to people and they always comment on the music content (+ve mostly but there are some who are just not feeling the disco and funky house vibe?!?!?) but I never get any comments about the lack of quality in the music.

I think for the audiophile with a music system which requires that they hear what more than 90% of the people out there do without - the upper bit rates are really useful - also for recording they are great but for listening on the street where there will be some interference regardless of the headphones you wear - then I think the lower bit rates make sense - also they save you a heck of a lot of space you the machine itself.

Don;t get my wrong I am all for better quality - I just think for ME it would be silly to try and get the quality I would expect in a quiet room at about about 1am - on the street in the daytime or on a train and the combination or 64k and high quality, comfortable headphones really works for me.

There must be more people out there who use 64K - if so - lets hear you then - don't let it just seem like I'm the only one who lives down there in the lower registers!!

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Well, i am a lower rates user when the situation dictates it.

I'm notorious for using mp3pro encoding, used in legacy playback as 22050Khz mp3's from 44100Khz 'pro files, for when i need extra compactness on mp3 discs, so likewise, when i need a bulk load of compact audio on a CD-ROM, then my ATRAC CD's are encoded to lower levels such as 64K.

I always go with the idea that you encode to suit the music, unless there is a definatel need for extra compactness and hence bit-rate compromise, but aint afraid to use high ratio encoding when the need strikes - hence why i definately had no bad comments to add about 48/64K usage.

If it gets you what u want, then hey.. totally cool.. noone else's opinion counts :P

And yes, certainly is the case that you cannot compare what's needed for portable 'on the street' use to 1am in yer quiet room at home use - you tailor stuff to suit the situation.

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MDR-SA1000 - I've listened to it today for about 30 seconds, and it already deserves a mention on this list.

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Sennheiser PMX60

Neckband 'sport' headphones, extremely comfortable on the ears, excellent audiophile phones for the price and not just for sport purposes - around $20-$30.

These are very open headphones, meaning you can easily hear what is going on around you - so good for outdoor activities where you still need to be able to hear oncoming traffic, eg walking, jogging, skating, skiing etc. Not good for air travel, etc where there is a lot of background noise.

Long cable.

AKG K271

Large DJ-style supra-aural headphones. Very comforable with soft cushions, not too much pressure to the side of the head. Outstanding audiophile headphones across the whole audio spectrum. Blocks quite a lot of external noise so good for noisy backgrounds etc.

One issue: Like many supra-aural headphones, the seal with the head is so tight that in a warm environment it can make your ears sweat.

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Guest Stuge

Sennheiser CX300 can also be added ..

I will review CX300 in April ..sO WAIT FOR MY REVIEW ..

हिंदी

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Just because the ticket price on a set of great headphones is over $100 doesn't mean you'll pay over $100.

Even before I was getting awesome staff discounts on general HiFi gear I knew that the mark up on headphones and speakers was generally double cost price.

I grabbed a set of Sennheiser HD435's for my PC for under $100 because I knew that cost for most retailers is around $70. They were marked at $129, I told the guy he was "going to sell them to me for $95 and a set of HD485's for $100 even, because I know your markup is ridiculous and your still making a good margin". The HD485's are for my home theatre amp so I can watch movies late at night without sacrificing sound quality. They were marked at $165.

Don't be afraid to haggle a bit on this kind of stuff, even if it's not the norm in your country. You might be surprised at how much you can save on certain items.

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I grabbed a Sennheiser PX100. I read somewhere that those are the best sounding head phones for the buck and so far nothing beat it yet.

Edited by nobitsu

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I grabbed a Sennheiser PX100. I read somewhere that those are the best sounding head phones for the buck and so far nothing beat it yet.

Yep, picked up a pair of these recently and am quite impressed by them. Not a bad buy for £30.

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hey guys,

I´m going to buy a new pair of IEM´s, but I´m doubting wich one to get.

sennheiser CX300: have had these before, really loved them compared to sony mdr-ex71

JBL reference 220: don´t know these, just know JBL makes real good audio products

V-moda bass freq: don´t know these, but CNET say they´re good.

can any-one help me? does any-one have experience with these IEM´s?

greetz

DSP

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Hi DSP before you go for any of these try MDR-EX85 OR EX90 if your budget allows.

They are pretty well balanced and not just bassy or good on highs.

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hi giki,

I´ve been thinking of testing EX90´s, but I wonder how the MDR-NC022 compare to the MDR-EX90?

´cause I own MDR-NC022 and they look very similar to those EX90s.

btw: you have a PM :)

greetz

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okay, I have bought sennheiser CX300.

just good pair of IEM´s.

But as I´ve said, I have had them once before.

I notice they changed the design. the back of the earbud (the black part, with the logo on it) was matt on my old ones.

on my new ones this has a shiny/glossy finish.

I don´t mind, as long as they sound the same. But I thought I´d share this with you guys.

greetz

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Hi DSP if you have tried and compared the EX90 with these I reckon they beat the senns hollow.The EX90 has a much bigger soundstage and presence and good tight bass.Sounds prettty punchy but not as good as the NC022 i suppose or maybe its just the combo of the player and phones in the latter's case cause i have the 706F.

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Yeah, but compare the prices of the MDR-EX90 and the CX300. One's frickin' AUD$199 (good one Sony -_-") and the other is AUD$79.

Sometimes, you have to look at budget too, when buying new earphones.

Edited by kerfuffle

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yeah, i notice with the NC022 that the soundstage is very big. But for my PSP and NW-A1200 I thought good old CX300 would be good enough.

My budget wasn´t too bog either, since I spent lot of it on my NW-S703FB. CX300 has very decent sound, in some way it has a little edge over NC022, but can´t (yet) tell what it is. Overall NC022 sounds better i.e. ´´bigger´´. I love the the fit of CX300 better though. They´re sooo damn small and light, I can´t feel them and they´re just soo comfortable. I think they´re more comfy than EX71.

I think they´re the bet IEM´s around for the price (49 €)

greetz

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Guest Stuge

yeah, i notice with the NC022 that the soundstage is very big. But for my PSP and NW-A1200 I thought good old CX300 would be good enough.

My budget wasn´t too bog either, since I spent lot of it on my NW-S703FB. CX300 has very decent sound, in some way it has a little edge over NC022, but can´t (yet) tell what it is. Overall NC022 sounds better i.e. ´´bigger´´. I love the the fit of CX300 better though. They´re sooo damn small and light, I can´t feel them and they´re just soo comfortable. I think they´re more comfy than EX71.

I think they´re the bet IEM´s around for the price (49 €)

greetz

Yes ,I agree that CX300 were more comfortable than NC022.

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