It is certain that in the world of audio engineering, many of us have often associate quality audio gear with a high price tag. For instance, when buying a pair of earphones, the most convenient approach (but least objective) would associate the earphones’ performance with its relative price. Personally, I still see the values in economically priced earphones and comparing them with higher end earphones are similar to comparing a commercial vehicle to a sports car, where they are just simply different.
As mentioned in my previous post (Future Proofing Your Technology), it is important to have a realistic idea of what you are going to use earphones with, hence optimizing every single penny spend towards better sonic performances. When it comes to inexpensive earphones, I would prioritize build quality and ease of use of the earphones. Ironically, sonic superiority is the least of my concerns but adequate fidelity should be expected.
When you are looking for a low priced earphone, chances you are also on a budget and would not want to splurge on anything unnecessary. Thus, it is even more important to pay attention to the build quality of the device in order to ensure the longest possible service life from your earphones. This allows you to save up and possibly have the financial resources available for an upgrade in the future. It would be inequitable to expect inexpensive earphones to possess features such multi-core to single conductor cables to improve the signal to noise ratio (SNR). A more pragmatic perspective would be to analyse the durability of the earphones. Some earphones are built extremely sturdy, for example, being able to withstand cable stresses experienced during sports workout and being washable (water resistance) to rinse off any excessive sweat or dust. A notable example would be the Sennheiser sports series earphones that range below $100 SGD.
In addition, replaceable parts are often another strong suit to help extend the serviceability of the earphones. There are many variations from replaceable ear tips (foams) to headbands, but the one I find it most appealing would be the detachable and replaceable cables. If you have been an audio junkie like myself, you would have notice that for the most part of your listening experiences, the cables in your earphones are the ones that stop working first. Unless you favour the DIY approach where you can re-solder the connections yourself, many would just discard an otherwise still functioning speaker drivers.
The next criteria require a little bit of effort but it will save you from many unnecessary hassles and spending. When you’re on a budget, the only items you should invest in (assuming that you already have a functioning media playback device) are your earphones and nothing else. Do not be tempt by other additional accessories such as a portable audio amplifier, where it claims to help enhance sonic characteristic. Most playback devices have an output impedance that are at kilo ohms ranges and that is sufficient to drive most earphones with an impedance of 160 ohms and below (assuming output impedance of your playback device is 10K ohms). Introducing additional audio amplifier along the circuit will be futile as it does not help optimize your signal chain.
To conclude, inexpensive earphones are still very relevant, even to an audio enthusiast, it serves as a temporary option for one to save up and upgrade. Fortunately, there are many prospective earphones that are right below the $150 SGD mark where it will comfortably suffice the requirements mentioned above. Have reasonable expectations and these earphones might be applicable to your daily listening needs.