Earbuds - A search for the perfect ones

(2009 Jan blog post)

(I may add earbud evaluations to the table below --- as I buy and
try out new earbuds on runs, or as I find useful user reviews.)

Home page > Blog menu > This page on earbuds

I am continually looking for a pair of ear-buds/phones that satisfy several conditions:

  • will stay in ears while running, even when sweating heavily
  • are comfortable to the point that I hardly remember that they are in my ears
  • have good sound reproduction --- good bass and good highs (not muffled sounding, neither treble nor bass)

I have NOT found totally satisfactory earbuds as of this date (2009 Jan). But I have found a couple of models that are suitable for 5K runs, if not for longer, sweatier runs.

The kinds of earbuds that are usually supplied with MP3 players are agony to my ears. They are circular and hard --- not at all a good fit to my inner ear. After wearing them only a few minutes, my ears are in extreme agony. I cannot image a less ergonomic earbud. These devices would surely have made ideal instruments of torture during the Inquisition. They would have easily made Galileo concede that the sun orbits the earth.

On this issue of comfort, I have found that earbuds with foam or soft rubber-like padding are the best bets for comfort during a run. However, the challenge seems to be to find ones that stay in one's ears while running --- especially during sweaty runs.

On the issue of good sound reproduction, it is advisable to find earbuds that offer good frequency reproduction in the range of at least 15 Herz to 20,000 Herz (cycles per second) --- while ranges of about 6 to 23,000 are possible. However, some earbuds do not state the frequency response range on the packaging --- and some probably fudge the numbers, especially the lower one.

I have seen some earbuds (Sony brand) that advertise 6 to 23,000 Herz, but when you read the user reviews on sites like amazon.com or epinions.com, you find that users find the frequency response is really quite horrible. (I do not know if you can trust these reviews. I have seen a few reviews of earbuds that I rate highly in sound quality, below, but some reviews -- a definite minority -- have rated their sound quality as very poor. Can this be due to quality control problems in manufacturing?)

I think that the best way to find earbuds that give good music reproduction is to buy them and try them yourself --- or, if the earbuds are very expensive, look for user reviews --- and check whether a significant percentage of the reviews rate the sound quality as poor.

I am leary of earbuds that cost more than $30. In too many cases, the user reviews on them have been quite disappointing. And I have found at least a few earbuds that are quite adequate in sound reproduction and in comfort (listed in a table below) --- and they cost less than $20, if you look for best prices on them.

Furthermore, I know a runner who got expensive earbuds only to find that sweat caused them to rust and disintegrate. For reasons of damage and loss and disappointment, I think it is better to find good earbuds in the sub-$30 range. In fact, I have found ones quite adequate for running in the $4 to $6 range --- at a Ross discount store.

On the issue of safety --- on many forums, I see people advising against earbuds for running because they cut down on sound of on-coming cars. I do not find this a problem. I do not turn the volume up super loud --- and I look both ways before crossing the street. (Knock on wood.)


I plan to post info on earbuds on this web page --- maker, model, cost, and comments on

  • comfort,
  • 'stay-in-ears-ability', and
  • sound reproduction,
along with my rating based on a 1 to 5 scale.

I will mostly devote space to earbuds that I have found adequate, but I may occasionally add info on earbuds that are far less than adquate and that should be avoided.

For example, I tried a pair of SkullCandy earbuds, but found that with each jogging step I took, a rumble sound was produced in the earbuds --- apparently due to a rather flimsy or poorly mounted diaphragm. I returned them and have not tried any further SkullCandy earbuds.

CLICK on any of the images in the table below to see a larger image.

And click on the Back button of your browser to return to this page.

1. Earbud Make, Model, Approx. Cost,
My Overall Rating (1-5)
2. Earbud Image 3. Rating of comfort, stay-ability, sound 4. Comments
Koss 'Sparkplugs'
about $15
Rating: 4.5 of 5 Row 1

 
Comfort: 4.8 of 5
Stay-ability: 3.5 of 5
Sound: 4.7 of 5
  • Comfort: The foam plugs are quite comfortable.
  • Stay-ability: Stay in place well as long as not sweating. The cone shape and rather smooth surface of the foam cause the plugs to slip out of sweaty ears.
  • Sound: Very wide range, including surprisingly good bass reproduction from such a small device.
  • NOTE: This was the first good pair of earbuds I found. Others below may be compared to the Koss 'Sparkplugs'.

2XL 'Nuevo Sonido'
about $14
Rating: 4.5 of 5 Row 2

 
Comfort: 4.8 of 5
Stay-ability: 4.5 of 5 (preliminary)
Sound: 4.2 of 5
  • Comfort: The rubbery plugs are quite comfortable.
  • Stay-ability: Stay in place well ... BUT I have not used them on a sweaty run yet. They seem like they should stay in place better than the Koss 'Sparkplugs'.
  • Sound: Very wide range, but probably not quite as good bass reproduction as the Koss 'Sparkplugs'.
  • NOTE: The 2XL 'Wrecking Ball' earbuds look like the 'Nuevo Sonido' buds --- just a different color --- green and black, instead of red, white, and green.

You can do web searches for other earbuds suitable for running. On 4 Jan 2009, Google showed that a search on the keywords "earbuds for running" would result in about 422,000 hits.


You can do a search for 'earbuds' on amazon.com to see reviews and 5-star ratings on many types of earbuds --- many of which cost less than $30. (WARNING: There were over 1,600 earbuds listed there in Jan 2009 --- about 50 different makers --- quite a few were the same model, just a different color.)

It is best to find earbuds with at least 5 reviews and at least a 4-star (out of 5) rating. (It seems that almost invariably, on amazon.com, the earbuds with only one review have a 5-star rating.)


There are some Jensen, Sennheiser, Philips, and JVC earbuds that I would like to try in the future. I have tried some Philips with ear clips, but they were quite uncomfortable. My encounter with a couple of ear clip equipped ear buds were disappointing. I may add my reviews of those, and my reviews of a few 'off-brands', in the future.

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Page was created 2009 Jan 04.
Added page breaks for better printing 2009 Aug 11.
Minor format changes 2013 Apr 18.