Picking IEMs/ear buds/over-the-ear headphones whatever you want to call

I recently lost my trusty Ultimate Ears Super.fi 5 Extended Bass ear phones, which through the Logitech acquisition of Ultimate Ears, are no longer produced.

I went to the place on the internet I knew was filled with audiophiles looking to assist the layman in guidance of finding the right headgear, head-fi.org.

The following is a quick list of steps I took to find the right IEMs:

IEMs? What are those?

I could get crude (in reference to a quote from Jack Black in the Tenacious D movie), but let’s just call them earphones that are inserted into your ear canal hence the name inner-ear monitors. I was referred to IEMs because I ride the subway, who’s environment is that of varying sound, so noise cancellation would not work well, as IEMs provide great isolation.

Some people really hate them, as having things stuck into your ears might be uncomfortable. Earbuds can be a consideration, which basically just chill on the outside of your ear canal, or right at the entrance and don’t invade the canal very much.

For those of you who are totally not down with entrance, you may consider on-the-ear or over-the-ear headphones (the latter are also referred to as “cans”). I bought a pair of Philips CitiScape Uptown for my wife, who hates IEMs and can barely stand earbuds.

Consider Musical Taste:
Primarily, what type of music do you listen to? Do you listen to walled sounded pop music? What about soft acoustic? Poorly recorded hard bop? Airy new age? 64kbps youtube-to-mp3 downloads? Double-bass drum rumbling thrash core? Filtered tech house? Minimal techno?

Any way you smash it, do you like to listen analytically? How critical are you? Are you going to be pissed off when the crash cymbal doesn’t have the right timber? How seriously do you want yourself bumped when that DJ Craze mix is blasting?

Consider Ear Learnedness:
If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you are new to selecting higher end headphones. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have a “learned ear” though, as I took a few music appreciation classes while studying computers at college, but didn’t own any good head gear until about seven years later.

What I’m speaking of here is the idea of picking out very different sounds, specifically frequencies. Are you treble sensitive? What about bass? Are you a “basshead?” I am both sensitive to treble and a basshead, so I tend to focus on bass heavy headphones.

Finding the right pair:
Now that you’ve prepared what you need to know to seek out a pair, finding one can be the greatest challenge.

A good place to start is by researching by price point. The audiophiles at head-fi.org have broken down thorough reviews by this.

IEMs:
Earbuds:
On-the-ear:
Over-the-ear:

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