While exhibiting at the Rocky Mountain Audio Festival, we decided to check in on the discussion panel “In Your Head. Literally: In Ear Headphones.” Moderated by Jude Mansilla from Head Fi, the experts included Jerry Harvey – JH Audio, Karl Cartwright -Westone, Mike Dias – Ultimate Ears, with Taka Sunota – Sony, Tyll – Inner Fidelity, and Chris with Stereophile. We weren’t sure what to expect, but it was an ear-opening experience.
While there are many different types on the market today, ranging from the Sony XBA-3 Balanced Armatures to the Ultimate Ears Personal Reference Monitors to the JH Audio JH16 Pro Custom In-Ear Monitors, it’s clear that In-Ear Headphones are just as subjective as judging a standalone system. Each Panel member all seemed to have a favorite and a different style that was preferred, but all agree that consumers should demo different models before purchasing. The audiophile motto, “trust your own ears,” rings true in this arena as well since each individual perceives sound differently.
Taka, from Sony, shared that Sony decided to create their own Balanced Armatures to maintain creative control over the product. Jerry Harvey with JH Audio and Karl Cartwright echoed that statement in regards to the creation of their own multi-driver in-ear monitors.
However, based on the discussion, Custom monitors have a significantly higher quality of sound. Universal models seem to have more issues with bass being muddled or the treble being too bright as far as sound quality goes. The manufacturers present agreed that Universal is not always universal – meaning that overall fit, comfort, and seal do not work for everyone. Karl Cartwright summed it up well by stating, “A little attention from the tailor will go a long way.”
Surprisingly, for $50 to $75, anyone can be fitted for a custom pair by an audiologist. So if you can afford the customs then why would you even consider a Universal Pair? For now it seems that the market is more open for Universals at this time. Yet after listening to this discussion we feel that with a little education this will change. While entertainers and audiophiles understand the significance in owning a pair, we predict before long it will be the norm to see teens and young adults rocking their own stylish customs as well.