A common misconception about in ear headphones is that good IEMs cost hundreds of dollars. In fact, the opposite is true. A great sounding, well-built and well-designed IEM can be found for as low as under $100. In this review, we feature a mix of famous brands (Audio Technica, Sony, Shure) and niche headphone makers (DUNU, MartinLogan, Meze) to bring you a list of the best in ear headphones under $100.
To begin with, we’ll focus on the top 5 best-selling headphones that feature great design and audio quality. Following that list is another 10 IEMs that are worth considering. We’ll also advise on how to select a great pair of in ear headphones to suit your own needs. Interested? Read on for more.
5 Best In Ear Headphones Under $100
1. Audio Technica Sonic Fuel ATH-CKX9iS (Best Value)
The ATH-CKX9iS features 13.5mm performance-enhanced drivers for improved sound quality and audio experience. The included C-tips lock the IEMs comfortably in place in your ear, preventing them from falling out even while on the move.
The Audio Technica Sonic Fuel is designed for active listening on the go, and features passive noise-isolation for an immersive experience. With deep bass response and extended high frequencies, the ATH-CKX9 has a wide sound frequency that will please even the most demanding listeners.
The ATH-CKX9iS comes with a carrying case and a wide selection of eartips—Comply, silicone (XS/S/M/L size), C-tips (S/M/L)—and features a tangle-free flat cable for easy unraveling. The in-line mic and volume control is great for taking calls, controlling audio playback and adjusting volume levels.
The Sonic Fuel ATH-CKX9iS is also available in either black or silver depending on your personal preference.
2. Creative Aurvana In Ear Earphones
The Creative Aurvana In-Ear2 Plus is sleek, beautiful and comes with balanced armature drivers instead of dynamic drivers.
The Aurvana offers excellent noise-isolation of up to 95% and fits comfortably in your ear. The noise isolation design is great for city dwellers and frequent travellers who crave privacy and sound quality in a well-designed IEM.
The In-Ear2 Plus has a frequency response of 15Hz-16kHz, has excellent bass and clear highs, and is great for listening to a wide range of music genres.
Featuring a right-angled gold plated 3.5mm plug and an in-line remote and microphone, the Aurvana offers practicality in an affordable price range and is certainly one of the best in ear headphones under $100.
3. MartinLogan Mikros 70
This IEM is inspired by MartinLogan’s legendary electrostatic speakers and focuses on clarity and detail in an affordable package.
The Mikros 70 offers even greater noise-isolation than the Creative Aurvana—up to 97.8% ambient noise-isolation. To achieve that, it uses a set of well-designed eartips that fit snugly in your ear for a proper seal.
The MartinLogan has an aero-dynamic design that is futuristic looking yet discreet. The body is made from anodized solid aluminum and features a black rubberized cable for enhanced grip and control. Inside this design is a set of drivers that offers a rich and expansive sound for even the most discerning audiophile.
The Mikros 70 comes with an in-line microphone and remote, right-angled 3.5mm gold plated plug and two kinds of eartips—bulb and flange tips.
4. Shure SE215-K Sound Isolating Earphones
Another best in ear under $100 is the Shure SE215-K—an extremely popular IEM due to its sound isolation and unique over-the-ear design. The Shure is designed to fit comfortably in the ear with its optimized nozzle tip.
It features a natural, detailed sound and great bass response. Sound isolation is up to 37 dB. The SE215-K comes with detachable cables for easy replacement.
The Shure has a single dynamic MicroDriver and has been road-tested extensively by professional musicians. Sound frequency is between 22Hz-17.5kHz and offers great detail for personal listening, as well as professional monitoring.
Well-designed and extremely rugged, the Shure SE215-K is built to last, whether you plan on using it everyday or on-stage. You have to trust Shure, they have been in the pro-audio business for decades. They definitely know how to make a good set of in ear headphones for musicians.
5. Sony MDR-AS35W Sports Headphones
Last on this list is a very unique pair of in ear headphones by Sony. The design is a lightweight headband that is sweat resistant and suited for athletes and fitness enthusiasts.
The MDR-AS35W comes with 13.5mm open-air drivers for precise sound reproduction. Its Bass Booster technology also enhances bass response for a great low-end tone.
Despite the headband design, the Sony MDR-AS35W is foldable and can be carried easily in its carrying case, and fits well in a briefcase or your pocket. Sony designed this headphones for people who travel or work out often, so expect it to last for a long time.
One gripe people have about most earphones is they don’t work well for sports. The Sony MDR-AS35W on the other hand was designed to allow moisture to pass through the headphones, allowing it to keep up during intense workout sessions without feeling sticky.
The Sony MDR-AS35W features neodymium drivers and has a frequency response of 18Hz-22kHz and comes with a carrying pouch, clip and a 2 feet extension cord. The original cord can be extended with the included extension to suit your own needs.
10 Best IEM Under $100
The IEMs below might not have made it to our top 5 above, but they offer great sound quality and should be considered as worthy alternatives as well.
1. Meze 12 High Fidelity Headphone Monitors in Gun Metal (Best Sound Quality)
The popular and highly-rated Meze 11 now has a bigger brother that looks great and sounds even better. Housed in a beautiful walnut wood shell that looks elegant from any angle, the Meze 12 has an impressive frequency range of 16Hz – 24kHz and comes with a gold plated 3.5mm plug and microphone control.
The wood enclosure gets better over time, changing the tone and contrast in subtle ways. The signature Meze tone remains though, thanks to its high quality titanium-coated 8mm mylar driver and copper-clad aluminum voice coil.
The Meze 12’s warm and natural sound and features makes it one of the best in ear headphones for $100. It even comes with Comply foams and SpinFits, in addition to the regular eartips.
Check out the video below to see why the original Meze 11 lives up to its hype. Then be prepared to be blown away by the upgraded Meze 12.
Go to 0.11 to skip straight to the Meze unboxing.
2. DUNU Titan1 In Ear Earphones
The DUNU Titan 1 comes with 13mm dynamic drivers with a frequency range of 20Hz-30kHz. The DUNU has a natural, energetic and transparent tone. It also has great bass response and looks great in its metal chamfered body.
3. Sony MDR-XB90EX In Ear Headphones
The Sony’s angled design improves comfort and also helps improve bass response. It also features Sony’s Advanced Direct Vibe Structure to form a tight seal in your ears for improved sound isolation. The tangle-free serrated cord is a bonus for fuss-free operation.
4. urBeats In Ear Headphones
The urBeats is another IEM with tangle-free cables and has a chic, white design. RemoteTalk allows you to control your music as well as talk with the built-in microphone. The urBeats comes with a carrying case and four pairs of eartips.
5. HydroActive Waterproof Headphones
The HydroActive is the only headphones on this list with a waterproof design designed for swimming. It has a wrap-around band and is suitable for a wide range of water sports. The HydroActive is constructed out of heavy-duty ABS plastic and is designed to withstand heavy use.
6. Brainwavz S3 In Ear Headphones
The S3 is a passive noise-isolating in ear headphone with a Clearwavz remote control for iOS devices. The drivers are housed in an all-metal construction for improved durability and looks sporty. It is also made with high purity OFC copper wiring to improve audio quality.
The Brainwavz S3 has a wide soundstage and natural sound reproduction. It also has an impressive sound frequency of 16Hz-22kHz and features a gold plated 3.5mm jack. It comes with a wide array of eartips such as silicone, Comply, bi-flange and tri-flange. All these features makes the Brainwavz S3 one of the best in ear headphones under 100 dollars.
7. Yamaha EPH-50BL In Ear Headphones
The Yamaha is extremely rugged and is built to last. It features an angled earbud design for easy wearability and sound isolation. The EPH-50BL has a frequency range of 20Hz-21kHz and features dynamic drivers. Good headphones under $100 such as the Yamaha usually sell out pretty quick.
8. Marshall Mode EQ In Ear Headphones
Marshall is famous for its British rock and roll amplifiers. They’ve expanded into the audiophile market with their Marshall Mode EQ which is a stunning earphone in black and brass colors. The design is reminiscent of their amplifier design, and comes with 9mm drivers, an in-line microphone and a single-button remote. A unique EQ switch allows you to select between two EQ curves—stronger bass or brighter high-end.
9. Sennheiser PCX95 In Ear Neckband Headphones
The Sennheiser is a neckband design headphone with enhanced passive noise isolation and great bass response. It has an iOS in-line remote control and an angled acoustic pipe for enhanced sound projection.
10. Sony MDR-EX650AP In Ear Headphones
The Sony’s 12mm neodymium drivers are housed in a gorgeous black brass housing for true dynamic sound. The drivers have a frequency range between 5hZ-28kHz. The Sony MDR-EX650AP has an in-line remote microphone for use with either iOS or Android.
Buyer’s Guide to IEMs
It’s important to consider the following when deciding on the best IEM under $100. Everyone has different needs and preferences. Follow our advice below and you’ll find it easier to make a shortlist of your own.
Price is definitely a factor to consider when choosing the perfect pair of earphones. As we’ve mentioned earlier, IEMs don’t necessarily have to cost hundreds of dollars. There are literally hundreds of different IEMs and headphones—narrow down your search so you don’t get confused by all the options.
We’ve made it easy for you by pre-selecting the top selling brands between $70 to $100. The Audio Technica Sonic Fuel can be had for around $60+, compared to the Shure SE215-K at around $90+. For some, $30 makes a lot of difference. Ask yourself how much are you willing to spend, and focus on a price-range within your budget.
Design is a personal preference. Are you willing to pay top dollar for a ‘Beats’ design, or is sound quality more important for you?
Some brands like Shure spent decades designing functional pro-audio equipment for musicians. Their emphasis is on quality over design—that’s not to say that Shure’s headphones don’t look good, they’re just not too obsessed with fashion statements.
But don’t for a moment think that independent makers can’t make great looking IEMs. Meze, a fairly new maker, has some products that look and sound exceptionally great, like the Meze 12. For an in-depth review of the Meze 12 Classics, check out my latest review.
Probably the most important question you have to ask yourself is whether form or function is more important. Are you willing to spend more on a great looking headphone, or on something discreet but sounds better? Or are you willing to strike a balance between both, like with the Creative Aurvana?
With or Without Microphone?
Another option to consider is whether you require an in-line remote control that comes with or without a microphone. For some, the extra functionality is a hassle. To others they simply can’t do without a mic.
In-line microphones tend to cost a bit more. So ask yourself whether the extra investment is something you will use. If not, why not put the money into a better sounding IEM such as the MartinLogan Mikros 70?
We’ve gone through a comprehensive list of the best in ear headphones under $100, as well as some useful tips for deciding on form and function.
We often get questions like “Does the Sennheiser sound better than the Sony?” You have to understand that tone is a personal preference. I’ve been saying that time and again and I’ll say it once more: Tone is subjective. I may find an IEM’s treble to be glassy-sounding, but you may find it harsh. Having said that, there is a baseline for what good audio should sound like, and most manufacturers try to replicate a natural sound EQ.
The key is to understand your personal preference. Do you like music to be bass-heavy, or do you enjoy a forward mid-range that brings out the warmth in vocals? Do you prefer a veiled top-end or do you like transparent highs and a wide soundstage? You have to be honest with yourself with these questions.
I’d suggest reading the reviews and finding out what suits your needs. Understanding your personal audio preference (in terms of a headphones’ signature EQ) will help you make a better decision when choosing the perfect IEM right now.
One More Thing
If you’re interested in wireless in ear headphones, here’s a complete list worth checking out. These are true wireless earbuds because they have independent bluetooth chips in each earphone – there are no cumbersome bluetooth dongles.
Grado GR10 photos by Jonathan Grado, jonathangrado.com. Some rights reserved.
This is Part 3 of a series of curated lists for headphones. For Part 4, check out 18 Popular Wireless Headphones for Running.