Choosing the best vacuum headphones (earplugs)

By: Alex Chub | 01.11.2021, 13:19
Choosing the best vacuum headphones (earplugs)

Few people nowadays imagine their daily life without music and headphones in their ears. Especially anywhere on the road. The most optimal and comfortable for everyday use are in-canal headphones (correct name), which are popularly called vacuum, earplugs or simply plugs. In general, both the official and colloquial names reflect the essence and explain the main feature of this type of headphones: they are inserted directly into the ear canal. This provides good isolation from external noise, and the transmitter (or transmitters) are placed deeper in your ears. And such here earplugs in-canal headphones are also of many kinds, and they should be classified according to a large number of features and factors. In 2019, primarily by price. The most mass segment of "droplets" are budget models. This price range can be limited to conditional 400 or 600 UAH, variations are possible depending on the contents of the purse and personal psychological barrier. We shall not consider variants up to 10$, it is already a category of expendable material which can be bought in any crossroads. I personally have extremely high criteria for headphone sound quality, I believe that the sound quality of the vast majority of headphones up to 3000 is not good enough for me. But I am often asked for advice on choosing an easier headphone. So here is a rating of headphones that includes cheaper options that will more than satisfy some of the audience. And below are the more expensive options.


Cheap in-ear headphones

In this case the word "earplugs" represents the essence: at the moment in this price segment there are models only for the most unpretentious listeners, for the most part - "to play. But the models - a clouded number and you have to choose according to your personal impressions and preferences, plus pay attention to the construction: there are two types of in-ear headphone's fastening. Classic - just put it in your ears and done. And BTE, which came from the professional IEMs (In-Ear-Monitor) for musicians. The cable from the headphone goes behind the ear, so you get a more secure fit. These headphones are better suited for sports activities. It is difficult to choose certain models in this range, because there are many of them. Most of them can give the listener a very dense bass, which will turn into a hum, incidentally, the other frequencies also will not be the best transmitted. Of the brands "on hearing" you can look at:

Koss Plug, SparkPlug, Pathfinder

Model Koss Plug and its subsequent variations (Spark Plug, PathFinder) can not be imagined. The model was produced in 1999 and is still very popular. Every day you can see it in someone's ears in transport. The headphones have a rather unusual design. They are large, and instead of the standard silicone earpads, cone-shaped memory foam earpieces are used. The headphones have very good sound insulation and they are particularly suitable for bassheads: the bass is very high, 22 mm dynamic drivers are used, the frequency range: 10 - 20 000 Hz, impedance 16 Ohm, sensitivity 112 dB/mW. It costs 600-650 UAH.

Sony MDR-EX155

Sony MDR-EX155 - standard headphones, small size with a classical way of wearing, dynamic radiators, cable 1.2 meters, without headset microphone and with a standard set of three pairs of interchangeable earpieces in different sizes to suit your ears. They have low resistance and any (or almost any) smartphone will fit them. The price is 600 UAH, they come in different colours. Of the "branded" models there are also options JBL, Philips, Panasonic, Pioneer, etc., in quality and sound they will not differ much, so you can choose according to their appearance.


It's time to get rid of the stereotype that Chinese electronics are only of low quality. The Chinese have learned to do everything in the world, and much turns out quite good enough to get a foothold in the top, electronics, it also concerns: a lot of large and small companies already, it generates competition and as a consequence the quality of devices. Due to the lack of name markup, you can get a more interesting sound for the same money. For example SoundMAGIC PL11 is small in size and made of metal. The sound is produced by 9 mm dynamic radiators, the frequency range is 20 - 22 000 Hz, the impedance is 12 Ohm and the sensitivity is 100 dB/mW. They sound more interesting, more detailed and flatter than the aforementioned models, with a price tag of UAH 560. As a nice bonus, the package includes a clip for attaching to clothes and a small carrying case.

FiiO F1

All previous models are headphones, not headsets and do not have a microphone for use with smartphones. Potential buyers of such models just listen to music mainly from your smartphone, so the remote control with microphone will be very helpful. FiiO is more known for its players, a line of headphones appeared relatively recently and is manufactured by DUNU. F1 is the most budget model in the manufacturer's lineup and it is equipped with a three-button remote on the cable (by the way, it only works adequately with Android). Dynamic drivers 9.2 mm, frequency range: 20 - 20 000 Hz, impedance 16 ohms, the sensitivity of 97dB/mW are used. The sound is aimed at bass lovers, while it does not block the rest of the range and the midrange remains discernible, the tweeters are pushed into the background. The price is 520 UAH.

MEE audio Sport-Fi M3P

Sport fans have not been forgotten. Inexpensive earphones MEE audio Sport-Fi M3P have a behind-the-ear fit for a secure fit, suitable for running and gym activities, have protection from sweat and splashes. There's also a remote with a microphone, but the button is the only one to receive a call. The sound is also accented with low frequencies, in order to set the right rhythm during your workout. Again, 9 mm dynamic drivers (armatures and hybrids do not exist in this price segment), frequency range: 20 - 20 000 Hz, impedance 16 Ohm, sensitivity 98 dB/mW. Price 480 UAH.

Earbuds up to 3000 UAH

If you realize that the quality of quite cheap headphones is not enough and you want something more serious, there are a lot of interesting options to 3000, and the Chinese, and A-brands. To lose or tear such earphones would be a pity and it is necessary to treat them more carefully. Let's start with the branded ones.

Sennheiser IE4

The model Sennheiser IE4 is a familiar plug earphones in black without microphone, the company produces them for many years. They were originally positioned as consumables for radio systems Sennheiser, so they come in a simple bag with three pairs of interchangeable earpieces and a small manual. They use dynamic transducers, frequency range: 10 - 18,000 Hz, impedance: 16 ohms, sensitivity: 106 dB/mW. In practice, they have proved to be very survivable: the official warranty period is 24 months, but in fact they worked for about 4 years until they were lost (otherwise they would live much longer). The price is about 2800 uah.

Audio-Technica ATH-LS50iS

Another model, this time from the famous Japanese company Audio-Technica. Headphones ATH-LS50iS are available in different colors, equipped with a removable cable 1.2 m with A2DC connectors and remote control with microphone. Users can easily replace the cable with a new one without having to take the headphone to a service center. The sound is powered by Dual Symphonic Drivers 8.8mm, dual dynamic drivers. The behind-the-ear fit is good for wearing these headphones, so they are perfect for sports. The frequency range: 5 - 25 000 Hz, impedance: 11.5 Ohm, sensitivity: 103 dB/mW. At the moment, their price is 2400 UAH.

Sony XBA-100

Those who want to get acquainted with the sound of armature headphones can look in the direction of Sony XBA-100. This is Sony's basic, most basic model with a single armature driver. The headphone's balanced armature driver is promised to be great for all music, but especially good for vocals. The headphones are very small and lightweight (4g), so there won't be any problems with usability. Bassheads will not work because of the small amount of bass. Frequency range: 5 - 25 000 Hz, impedance: 16 Ohm, sensitivity: 105 dB/mW. Price - 3000 UAH.

Shure SE215

Another model that is not quite in the price range (costs about 3100 UAH), but very interesting and popular - Shure SE215. They have an excellent, comfortable and reliable behind-the-ear fit and a very decent sound for such a price. A very useful addition is an interchangeable cable with standard MMCX connectors that allows you to not only replace it with a proprietary cable, but also pick up something from a third-party manufacturer. Dynamic transducers are used, frequency range: 22 - 17500 Hz, impedance: 20 Ohm, sensitivity: 107 dB/mW.

Ostry KC06A

Now let's turn to Chinese models. Ostry KC06A headphones, popular among fans of inexpensive but quality Chinese headphones, cost a little over 2000 UAH. They use dynamic transducers, the body is made of metal, very interesting looking. Suitable for both behind-the-ear and classic way of wearing. They come with lots of different kinds of earpieces and removable earhooks for a secure fit. Ostry KC06A has a slight emphasis on bass, for those who like a more neutral sound there is Ostry KC06, which are slightly cheaper. Frequency range: 20 - 20,000 Hz, impedance: 16 ohms, sensitivity: 105 dB/mW. Review.

MEE Audio Pinnacle P2

The MEE Audio Pinnacle lineup so far consists of two models, P2 being the youngest. But some important features have moved over from the flagship P1, namely a very comfortable shape and removable cable. The form is designed for both classic and behind-the-ear wearing, whichever way you like, in either case the headphones fit perfectly in your ears and won't fall out. The cable comes with a microphone for use with smartphones. It connects to the headphone he standard MMCX, it gives the opportunity to replace it if necessary. The drivers are dynamic, frequency range: 17 - 20 000 Hz, impedance: 16 Ohm, sensitivity: 100 dB/mW. The price - 2800 UAH. Review.

HiFiman RE-400

Company HiFiman is known first of all for its Hi-Fi players, but lately it has started working with headphones. HiFiman RE-400 are interesting vacuum headphones for a reasonable price and come in three different versions: HiFiman RE-400 - without microphone and remote control, suitable for use with the player. They cost 2660 hrn. RE-400i and RE-400a are the versions with microphones and remote controls for iOS and Android smartphones respectively, the price is UAH 2800. For sound are responsible 8.5 mm dynamic radiators, sound relatively smooth, with a slight accent on the middle frequencies and are well suitable for vocals. Frequency range: 15 - 22 000 Hz, impedance: 32 Ohm, sensitivity: 102dB/mW.

Vacuum headphones up to 10 000 UAH

Now we move on to the more serious weight category. The buyers of headphones with a price tag below UAH 10,000 have already figured out what they want from the sound, are morally ready to pay a pretty penny and have probably already got a separate Hi-Fi player.


As always, let's start with the more well-known brands. AKG is a popular Austrian manufacturer that is now part of Harman International Industries. The manufacturer has a lot of headphones, both frankly cheap and weak in quality, and serious. AKG N40 is a hybrid model, the treble and midrange frequencies are controlled by an armature driver, while the bass is dynamic. The range of playable frequencies is from 10 to 40 000 Hz. The sound system is equipped with an interchangeable microphone cable and a set of sound lead filters so you can customize the sound according to your tastes. The way of wearing behind the ear, impedance: 20 ohms, sensitivity: 115 dB / mW. The price of 10 000 UAH.

Audio-Technica CK90PRO MKII

An interesting and unusual in sound armature model Audio-Technica CK90PRO MKII. For the sound are responsible dual radiators with balanced armature. The headphones sound very detailed, which is typical of armature headphones, but the low frequencies are noticeably more than usual in such cases. As a result, the sound is not unnecessarily dry, leaving room for drive in addition to analytics. Frequency range: 20 - 15,000 Hz, impedance: 37 ohms, sensitivity: 111dB/mW. The price is more humane than the previous model: 6440 UAH.


Now to the Chinese manufacturers, they have a lot to offer. The top-of-the-range hybrid model DUNU DN-2000J still sells and has not lost its relevance. The headphones feature a 10mm dynamic driver and Knowles TWFK twin armature driver, with a reproducible frequency range of 4 to 40,000 Hz. The headphones sound very detailed, precise, yet tight and solid. The set has a bunch of extensions for tuning the sound and a more secure fit of the headphones. Impedance: 8 ohms, sensitivity: 102dB/mW. The price is just under 10,000 UAH. Review.

MEE Audio Pinnacle P1

The older intra-channel model MEE Audio Pinnacle P1 is worthy of attention: as well as P2, the fit is excellent in the ears in both classic and behind-the-ear versions. Even despite the heavy zinc alloy enclosures, they don't get in the way. This is also a dynamic model, but with a very unusual sound for a speaker: very detailed mids and highs, and the lows are less than you might expect. So it is not recommended for bassheads, the rest at least a must listen. Pinnacle P1 has an interchangeable cable, with two of them in the kit: one better for the player, the second - simpler for your smartphone. Frequency range: 20 - 20 000 Hz, impedance: 50 Ohm, sensitivity: 96 dB/mW. The price is about 5600 UAH. Review.

FiiO F9 Pro

A little cheaper there is an interesting hybrid model FiiO F9 Pro, which combines 9.2 mm dynamic driver and twin armature Knowles 30017. The result is an energetic and driving sound with a slightly V-shaped amplitude-frequency response. Cable is detachable MMCX, there are two of them in the set: usual one with 3.5mm jack and microphone and braided balanced 2.5mm for using with players with corresponding output. Frequency range: 15 - 40 000 Hz, impedance: 28 Ohm, sensitivity: 106 dB/mW. The price is about 4600 hrn.

In-canal headphones "for all the money"

There is no limit to perfection, this also applies to in-canal headphones. And if there is a sum to 100 000 UAH and you want to spend it not on Daewoo Lanos, but on headphones - it is absolutely real. Yes, such fans of high-quality sound are few, but they exist, and in general, demand for such premium segment is always very small, but stable. We are sure that such sound lovers clearly know what they want. And below - just a couple of models for the general development of everyone else who is not aware of how big a variation in headphone prices can be in general.

DITA Dream

DITA Dream are Japanese in-ear headphones with multi-coated lavsan dynamic drivers and an optimized acoustic chamber, the housings are made of titanium or aluminum. The cable is removable with a 2-pin connector (into the headphones). On the connector side, there is a modular design that allows you to swap in and out of the 2.5mm, 3.5mm or 4.4mm connectors. Cable is designed and manufactured by VAN DEN HUL. How do they sound? Yes they sound great, with the appropriate player of comparable price, and in this case it is almost 58 000 UAH.

Audeze LCDi4

Very unusual and unique - Audeze LCDi4. These are in-channel planar-magnetic (or isodynamic) headphones, the number of such models in the world can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Usually planar-magnetic headphones are full size models. The drivers consist of a very thin, lightweight diaphragm that oscillates between two magnetic coils. Such drivers have a high fidelity, detailed sound. In this case, the drivers are 30mm drivers, so they are placed outside the ear, with the sound tube leading inside. Audeze LCDi4 are semi-open, so they are not the best for use in transport or on the street. Although the price of nearly 70,000 USD and does not quite fit with public transport or noisy places.

This is not a complete list of interesting in-ear headphones, which are worth paying attention to. And not even half of it, but hardly anyone would want to read a "sheet" of 80-100 models, right? If we've forgotten something or you think that we shouldn't have mentioned it - write us in the comments.

Honorable Mention

And as a bonus it is worth mentioning the Kiev company Ambient-Acousticswhich produces hearing aids, earplugs, headsets and in-canal headphones with a price from $420 for both Pro-musicians and fans of quality sound. There are mass-produced models as well as possible customization based on an impression of the ears.

Most important: Proper fit

Any in-ear headphones can only play to their full potential if they are properly seated in the ear. Only when the sound hole is in the correct position in relation to the eardrum and the seal is properly exposed will listeners reach peak enjoyment.

Even the smallest changes to the position of the earphone in the ear have a big impact on sound. And because everyone has a different ear canal, the same in-ear headphones do not sound the same for everyone, regardless of personal preferences and tastes.

That's why in-ear headphones always have at least three pairs of ear cushions in different sizes - even the cheapest ones. More expensive phones can even have up to 10 pairs.

Even though they are always in pairs in design and size, that doesn't mean your left ear will be the same size as your right. That's because with ears like fingerprints - each one is unique. So, it's quite possible that one audio channel is narrower than the other, then you just need to choose different ear cushions for your left and right ear.

Finding the right one for your ear isn't easy. But you have to put in the effort. Because even the best earbuds that don't fit properly don't sound as good as cheap earbuds that fit properly. Another criterion is wearing comfort. Ideally, good "earbuds" fit so perfectly that you're unlikely to feel them after a few minutes. 

In any case, it's worth taking the time to customize your in-ear headphones. Your ears will thank you twice over.

Headphones or headset?

In-ear headphones are especially popular for mobile use because you can always have them with you. Basically, you can use them to listen to music through your smartphone.

So most of the phones we tested were designed as headsets. Although we tested some headphones even in versions without a microphone, we still decided to include clear headphones in the test.

On the one hand there are still different versions for Android or iPhone, especially for corded phones, on the other hand there are more and more smartphones that do not have a headphone jack and are fully set to Bluetooth.

The eternal frustration: cable breakage

In-ear headphone cables are often a frustrating factor, whether due to their tendency to become tangled in unresolvable knots or due to internal breakage. Cable breaks are the most common cause of in-ear headphone cable failure.

Manufacturers are aware of these faults, which usually occur when plugs or sensors are connected, and respond with appropriate measures.

Often the plug and sensors have pronounced kink protection. The insulation and cable are reinforced in themselves, partly due to this flexibility suffers. But breakage usually occurs a little further down the cable.

Some manufacturers have started to plug high quality cables into the headphones. This design is often found in expensive in-ear headphones.

If you don't want to face these issues, consider Bluetooth in-ear headphones.

However, you can also do your part to ensure maximum cable life. You can handle your headphone cables more carefully. First of all, you shouldn't quickly fold your in-ear headphones into your bag and then pull on the resulting cable loop, otherwise it's only a matter of time before they break.