For the most part, budget earphones are uncomfortable, hideously designed and the sound they output is simply not very good.
Despite what some might assume, spending a huge chunk of cash on great sounding earphones isn't necessary in today's headphones market. With so many companies out there aiming to right the wrongs of these budget headphones, which one do you choose?
If you're looking for a sleek set of headphones that provide booming, high-quality sound performance and all the features needed for a great in-ear experience at a digestible $135 (£119, about AU$173) price, look no further than the Beyerdynamic iDX 160 iE.
The iDX 160 iE is quick to make a nice first impression with its design. An appealing trait of in-ear headphones is that they pack a listening experience into a discrete, travel-friendly form factor, and this set takes that to another level with premium and useful features.
Starting with the earpieces, the iDX 160 iE take on what seems to be Beyerdynamic's signature style for in-ear headphones. The black, glossy speaker housing is small and cylindrical. However, what's new with this model are the subtle metal rings and slight concave curvature, which aids in easily pushing them into your ear with a gentle press.
Moving down from the earpieces, the gorgeous, tangle-free flat cables of the iDX 160 iE begin to take shape. But just above the cable, Beyerdynamic has addressed the finicky issue of which earpiece goes in which ear with a subtle raised bump. It is placed where the wire meets the earpiece and helps navigate in a similar way to how a keyboard's "F" and "J" keys feature little notches to aid in finding your way without looking.
A little further down the right ear cable is the inline control panel. Not to gush too much about a set of buttons, but like the rest of the earphones, it looks and feels premium. The mic is located on the backside of the controls coated in a smooth, matte-textured finish. Around the front is a host of buttons laid inside a slightly concave area, which helps to avoid accidental button presses.
The twin flat cables then merge and plug into an extension cable. Beyerdynamic provides an extra inside the box, but you could technically use any that you'd like, so long as it has a female 3.5mm input.
Speaking of included goodies, there are a ton of bits and pieces in every box of Beyerdynamic's earphones. There's a simple clamshell case to keep the iDX 160 iE safe and sound inside. Better yet, it also features a small pocket to carry a few of the replaceable ear tips, of which seven different sizes are included. Actually, there are eight, if you count the medium-sized foam tips that are tossed in as well.
Rounding out the offering is an adapter that allows the headphones to output to a microphone and headphone slot on a PC, should you want to use it for video or audio calls. Lastly, there is a Y-splitter for sharing audio with a fellow listener.
Capitalizing on the impressive design, the iDX 160 iE are also a capable set of earphones in terms of all-around performance.
Once I found the right fit among the large offering of silicon ear tips, the sound performance really started to click. (I ended up going with the small, triple-sleeved set, because it achieved the most secure and isolating fit.)
Despite the small size of the earpieces, the iDX 160 iE is capable of presenting full, accurate sound that's either as expansive or intimate as it's intended to be. Not only are these swell headphones skilled in providing a balanced delivery of punchy lows and mids, highs shine through and avoid becoming entangled in the soundstage presented here.
These earphones provide a simple, hassle-free user experience, thanks to the elegant solutions Beyerdynamic has implemented. The aforementioned raised bump on the right earpiece helps me get on my way to playing music faster than I would normally on headphones without such distinguishing features.
The inline controls work like a champ. The button presses offer satisfying tactile feedback and the rubber layer all but guarantees no mess-ups. An important disclaimer is that the volume controls only work on iOS and iPod devices. The play and pause function works on Android phones, but if you're an Android user, opt for the DX 160 iE. It's fifteen bucks cheaper, but unfortunately, it doesn't come with any inline controls whatsoever.
During my commutes, the flat cable design was invaluable. Whenever my train is stuck in traffic, I usually yank headphones out of my pocket to sooth my aggravation. Most get stuck in knots, but the iDX 160 iE popped right into working form every time.
Admirable effort was made to ensure that the iDX 160 iE would fit comfortably in the ears of users. Just look at the eight (!) replaceable ear tips.
The earphones' design is sophisticated and stunning to gander at, but also remains practical. The flat cable and inline controls are pleasant features, to boot.
Inline controls only work in full-effect on iOS devices. It says so plainly on the box, but it's still a bit of a glaring limitation that gives a huge portion of its audience the shaft.
For what's included, $135 is quite reasonable. However, headphones that pack comparable sound performance, like the Shure SE215, can be had for a few bucks cheaper. (Though, those earphones lack inline controls.)
Putting out a comfortable set of headphones with solid sound performance and useful design is an achievement. But Beyerdynamic upped the ante by offering it all in stunning fashion and then some, all at an affordable price.
Sure, there are plenty of even more affordable options out there. However, those usually lack the sound quality or features to make their budget price worth, well, your budget. If you can't yet swing the asking price, then these earphones are definitely worth saving up for.