The Best In-Ear Headphones for Film Editors
- What are the best in ear headphones for film editors?
- How to choose the right in-ear headphones for film editing
- Affordable high quality headphones for film editors
Working out how to choose the best headphones for film editing has made this previous article on over-ear headphones, one of the most popular posts on the blog, ever!
Even though I’ve updated that post over time, it seemed like a good idea to follow up with a post focusing on in-ear headphones too.
These days you can spend just as much on a quality pair of in-ear headphones as over-ear sets, and in this post I’ve brought together suggestions at every price point.
Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom of the post though, to see some of the most affordable headphones that deliver the best quality, as I’ve listed these headphones by price high to low.
As part of my research for this post I polled some of my trusted editing, composer and tech-savvy friends to come up with this short list, but I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments if you feel I’ve missed out on a bargain or a better sound!
A shortlist of the best In-Ear Headphones for Film Editors
If you just want some quick links to a fistful of different options, here you go:
My Choice for Sound, Comfort and Price (around $99)
Affordable, Yet High Quality, Every Day Headphones (around $50)
Best Sound, Regardless of Price
Presumably the $690 Final Heaven VIII!
High Quality Investment ($250+)
How to choose In-ear Headphones for Film Editing
Although the technology has come along way you shouldn’t really be using headphones for your final mix, and especially not in-ear headphones. Ideally you’ll be able to work with your final mix on studio monitors, like the ones in my Best Studio Monitors For Your Edit Suite post.
That said if you just want a pair of compact, comfortable and accurate headphones that you can rely on during long editing sessions then a pair of decent in-ears should deliver on those requirements.
With both over-ear and studio monitors you would definitely be looking for an ‘unsweetened’ sound, and therefore a more faithful replication of your audio source.
But in some ways, as in-ear monitors are likely to offer less bass response due to their diminutive size, you may actually want a pair that will enhance the bass to give you a more balanced sound in the end.
In-ear headphones are also ideal for editors who wear glasses and don’t want those imprinted on their skull from the pressure of over-ear headphones sitting on the arms of their glasses. Every editor needs comfortable headphones to endure long editing sessions!
If you already own a set of wired headphones, purchasing a new set of in-ear headphones might also provide an opportunity to consider wireless and Bluetooth options, which will definitely help if you also want to use them for other, more mobile, occasions too, such as commuting.
Understanding the Specs
Before we dive in, it might help to define a few of the terms that you’ll hear in this post.
Drivers: Balanced vs Dynamic vs Hybrid
I found this post by Brian Li explaining the differences between dynamic and balanced armature drivers helpful, when reading through the tech specs on most of these headphones.
Most balanced armature drivers are tuned to sound good in a specific frequency range, and this is why many in-ear monitors contain multiple drivers. A crossover splits the sound signal into multiple frequency bands, and sends different frequency bands to each driver.
Unlike dynamic driver designs, balanced armature drivers to not displace air in order to generate sound. There are upsides and downsides to this. Balanced armature in-ear monitors typically provide better isolation because there is no need for a vent to move air. On the contrary, balanced armature drivers lack the superior bass frequency presentation of dynamic driver designs.
Dynamic drivers are designed to cover the entire frequency range. While this often results in less detail from a scientific point of view, many people find dynamic drivers to be more natural sounding due to the absence of a crossover sending specific frequency bands to different drivers.
Dynamic drivers are often vented and move air by design, and this results in a much better representation of bass frequencies compared to balanced armature designs. Because of their superior bass response, dynamic driver in-ear monitors are often used by bassists and drummers.
The whole post is well worth a read as Brian provides further details and some helpful pros and cons lists too.
Most of the headphones in this post feature Balanced Armatures, for example the Audio Technica ATH-E70’s have three, whilst something like the Sony XBA-H3’s feature a hybrid system mixing both a dynamic driver and two balanced armatures.
The more drivers you can afford the better the set of headphones, but given that fitting these into such a small space is tricky, this also drives up the price. The Ultimate Ears UE 18 Pro have six drivers and cost $1350!
Crudely speaking, lower impedance (less than 100 ohms), needs less power to drive, therefore can get louder; higher impedance (250 ohms), better sound but more power needed. Real world examples would be, less than 100 ohms – iPods, laptops, field recording; 250 ohms – hi-fi installations, studio monitoring.
That’s a quote from my previous post on What are the Best Headphones for Film Editors, and hopefully gives you a sense of the difference this spec will make to your overall sonic experience.
Essentially the greater the range of frequencies the headphones can reproduce, the more accurate their sound. Here is what the Sony site had to say about High Resolution Audio and increased frequency range.
While most people can only hear frequencies from 20-20,000 Hz, [the Sony XBA-H3] actually reproduce 3-40,000 Hz. This is because infra- and ultrasonic frequencies are not heard—they are felt.
This creates the richness of live and studio-quality music experiences—an experience lost with compressed digital files or some other headphones.
What to look for?
To sum up you ideally want to go for the best frequency range within your budget and the highest number of drivers you can afford.
As in-ear headphones tend to experience greater rough and tumble than over-ears you might also want to spring for a pair that have replacement cables to extend their life.
A lot of these really expensive headphones come with one or two year warranty, so you’ll want to look out for that too.
The Best Ear-Bud Headphones for Film Editing
I’ve ordered these headphones by price so things get cheaper as we go down the list!
As I’ve not had the chance (yet) to personally review these headphones I’ve added in quotes from my editor and composer friends who made these recommendations, so you can also get a sense of what they liked about them.
First up are the Final Audio Design Heaven VIII headphones:
- Live Price: $854.95
- Driver: Single Balanced Armature
- Ohms: 24
- Weight: 29g
- Warranty: Only from Authorised Distributers.
Personally I’m not sure I could ‘rock this look’ and I might be a little wary of wearing them out at night in good ol’ London town, but according to my composer friend Bernie
These look great, feel amazing and have a rich but clear sound. They’re expensive, but totally worth it!
They are definitely the most expensive headphones in this list, and personally I can think of other things to do with the money! But, if I had the cash to spare, I’d definitely be intrigued to hear how these sound, given their 9.5/10 review on hifiheadphones.co.uk.
Final Audio has earned itself a fanbase the world over, thanks to the wonderful IEMs and full size headphones it produces; the Heaven VIII is a shining example (literally) of the sort of talent they have at the company. All models other than the more neutral ones are so musical and enjoyable, they need to be tried to be believed!
Here is how Final Audio Design describe them on the official site…
Owing to the employment of MIM (Metal Injection Molding), a housing that optimizes acoustics not possible through regular machining is achieved; coupled with a newly specified single driver unit, it has been possible to heighten bass reproduction while preserving clarity.
With a never before experienced volume of sounds and sense of depth, you can experience an overwhelming sense of realism.
The back design is not merely for decoration either. Resonance dispersion has been factored into the design, making for a high-level balance between beauty and function.
My composer friend Bernie obviously has expensive tastes (or exacting standards) as the next highest priced set of headphones on this list are also his suggestion. He is also a drummer and all-round musician, which is why he’s recommending brands from the music world that I’ve not encountered before.
But always good to have your horizon’s broadened!
- Live Price: $499.99
- Driver: Four Balanced Armature
- Frequency Range: 15- 25,000 Hz
- Ohms: 18
- Replaceable cables: Yes.
- Warranty: 2 years
Bernie’s comment about these headphones was that they
provide great detail and are comfortable to wear, but are probably overly expensive for what they are
So you might also want to look into the cheaper options in the range. The Audiofly AF120 is half the price at $199 and is a hybrid with a dynamic and balanced armature driver. The reviews I’ve seen for this range highlighted their comfort in particular.
If I was buying one of this range I’d probably aim for the AF120’s over the AF100.
Audio Technica are a brand whose headphones I’ve recommended before, and according to the official site won PCMag’s Reader’s Choice Best Overall Headphones award two years running in 2015 and 2016. (Along with Shure and Sennheiser to be precise!)
Bernie (him again!) recommended the ATH-IM70’s, but I could only find these as a Japanese import. They also ‘appear’ to have been superseded by the E-series, and at a price point comparison the ATH-E40’s seem a likely equivalent. But I thought I’d throw in the E70 and E50 for good measure too.
Here are the stats on the ATH-E70
- Live Price: $399.00
- Driver: 3 Balanced Armatures
- Frequency Range: 20 – 19,000 Hz
- Ohms: 39
- Weight: 9g (without cable)
- Replaceable cables: Yes. (Special A2DC cable)
- Warranty: 2 years.
The ATH-E70 is the flagship product in the E series and this review from musictech.net draws a helpful comparison between the E70, E50 and E40 headphones.
- Live Price: $199.00
- Driver: Proprietary dual phase push-pull drivers
- Frequency Range: 20 – 20,000 Hz
- Ohms: 12
- Weight: 10g (without cable)
- Replaceable cables: Yes. (Special A2DC cable)
- Warranty: 2 years.
You’ve got to hope though that you’re benefiting from some ‘trickle-down’ technology and according to musictech.net, the E40’s represent that opportunity.
Having just mixed a track with a set of £1,300 AKGs, I was expecting crushing disappointment when trying out the £70 E40s and yes, there is a vast difference… at least at first.
With the E40s, the immersive feel was there and I could also pick out every part of the mix – albeit perhaps not as prominently in some lower reaches and not as rounded, but certainly everything was evident from the mix I’d done on the headphones that cost £1,230 more!
The cheapest E40s are surprising good for just £70 and to me, offered as full a mix as the 50s, although possibly a more narrow one. The 70s are the best all round, as you might expect for the money, and the best in-ear’phones I’ve mixed on, translating all I’d done on much more expensive headphones and £1,300 monitors.
They will take some getting used to, but if you want your music making streamlined and free of excess weight and size distractions, these are as good as it gets.
UPDATE – June 2017 – NuForce HEM6
- Live Price: $279.65
- Driver: Triple Balanced Armature
- Frequency Range: 18-40,000 Hz
- Ohms: 37
- Weight: 15g
- Replaceable cables: Yes
They were also kind enough to offer my readers a discount of $50 with the coupon ‘Nuforce‘ when you buy the HEM 6 headphones on Gearbest.com and save on their already discounted list price.
The Nuforce HEM 6 in-ear monitors are high-res audio certified headphones that sit in the middle of the high-end HEM series of in-ear monitors, in terms of both price and performance, featuring three Knowles balanced armature drivers.
The US Amazon product page is actually one of the best I’ve seen, with a ton of details about both the product and what some of the audiophile-level terms actually mean, if you don’t already know your Linear-Phase crossover from your balanced armature driver. (Although hopefully you read through some of that in the post above!). Either way, if you want a better grounding in all of this, then it’s worth a read.
From my own experience with these headphones these are definitely a huge step up from anything I’ve previously used, and the high-res audio certification is immediately noticeable, in that, if you put anything that’s compressed, or from a low-bit rate source, into these, it will sound a bit flat and unimpressive, where as if you feed them a high-quality source, the sound you get from them is phenomenal.
So, for example, if you’re often streaming from Amazon Primes Music service (LINK) like I am, you’ll notice that it’s sending you a lower bit rate stream than a premium service like Tidal, and it won’t sound as good.
When playing back a high-quality source the HEM6 headphones sound delightful, with an exceptionally detailed soundstage. They also deliver a substantial amount of bass – usually a weak spot for in-ear headphones – without it sounding distorted or warmed, in any way. It feels like there is really great separation in the whole frequency range.
Listening to tracks that previously felt like a ‘clump’ of instruments, on these headphones you can easily pick out every instrument and the nuances of their particular sound. It’s a totally different experience.
Of all the headphones in this post, only the Sony XBA-H3 headphones have a greater frequency response, but human hearing typically only handles 20 – 20,000 Hz, while the HEM6’s go all the way to 40,000 Hz, the rationale being that some of these frequencies can be ‘felt’, if not heard.
Wearing the HEM 6s is also an enjoyable experience. They are really comfortable, even after long periods and ship with two sets of Comply foam buds, for even greater comfort. In the end though I actually used them most often with the silicon sets, which were great. The ear pieces are extremely light weight and the wrap around fit makes them feel very secure in your ears.
Inside the box you get quite bit of stuff, along with two different detachable cables. One has an in-line mic and playback controls (annoyingly no volume) and the other is a higher end silver and OFC cable for superior sound.
Trying out these cables ‘back-to-back’ I felt like there was a slightly noticeable difference – the higher end cable maybe sounding a little bit ‘crisper’ – but maybe I’m just buying into the hype of the silver and OFC (Oxygen free copper) materials. Whichever cable you run with, they’ll both sound great.
What’s in the box?
- Range of silicon tips
- 2 sets of Comply soft foam ear tips
- Airtight Polycarbonate travel case
- Pocket size hard-fabric carrying case
- Cleaning tool
- 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter
Overall the NuForce HEM6 headphones deliver an excellent and detailed sound with a very comfortable, long-lasting fit.
The price point is, however, definitely going to be a stumbling block for some, but the quality is in keeping with the cost, so you won’t be disappointed, if you spring for it.
There is also quite a big leap in the price point between the Dual Driver HEM4 ($170) and the HEM6 ($399), so stepping down may not be worth it.
You can however save a bit of money on them, thanks to the good folk at Gearbest.com, with the following coupon!
Buy the HEM 6 headphones on Gearbest.com and save over $50 on their already discounted list price with the coupon ‘Nuforce’
That saves you over $100 compared to Amazon!
- Live Price: Out of stock
- Driver: One 16mm Dynamic and 2 Balanced Armature
- Frequency Range: 3-40,000 Hz
- Ohms: 40
- Weight: 10g
- Replaceable cables: Yes
I came across the Sony XBA-H3’s whilst looking into whether Sony produce any ‘professional level’ in-ear headphones (see below). They’re part of the Sony High Resolution Audio product category and are the top of the range for in-ears when it comes to price and performance.
As a bonus they also come with two detachable cables, one with in-line mic and one without.
Sony MDR7550 – Sony’s only professional in-ear headphones.
- Price: $283
- Driver: 16mm Dynamic
- Frequency Range: 3-28,000 Hz
- Ohms: 16
- Weight: 7g
- Replaceable cables: Yes
The over-ear Sony MDR7506 headphones are one of the most popular post production monitoring headphones in the industry, and the MDR7550 in-ear headphones are part of the same ‘professional’ range of products.
All of the reviews on Amazon were glowing recommendations by delighted users, commenting on comfort and build quality with some saying these were better than anything they’d ever tried.
Two things are worth noting though.
According to the UK Sony Pro site they are now discontinued (although you can still get them on Amazon) and they’re aimed more at musicians monitoring their audio on-stage, rather than in a mixing studio.
That said, if you’re a fan of Sony products then grabbing a pair of these while you still can, or the newer XBA-H3’s could be a good option.
- Live Price: Check on Amazon
- Driver: 4 Balanced Armature with 3-way crossover
- Frequency Range: 20 – 20,000 Hz
- Ohms: 30
- Replaceable cables: Yes
- Warranty: 1 year
My DP friend Adam Roberts recommended these based on years of his own personal experience. Here’s what he had to say:
I had a set of Ultimate Ears. I think there were the SuperFi Studios. Had them for 5yrs and loved them.
Replaceable cables. Lots of different size earbuds and a set of memory foam ones too. Dual drives for wider sound stage.
They eventually fell apart. But 5 years is pretty good going for the use and abuse they took.
Logitech bought them out and they don’t make them anymore. Now they have the UE900s.
I bought a pair for my girlfriend to run with. She loves them. I’ll be getting a pair soon too.
These headphones come with two different cables, one with in-line mic and one for audio only. There is also a plethora of tips including “two identical sets of 6 pairs of silicone hybrid eartips (XXXS, XXS, XS, S, M, L), and two identical sets of 3 pairs of memory foam eartips (S, M, L).”
Some of the online reviews have commented on a lack of bass compared to other sets, but sometimes that can happen if you’ve not gotten them fitted in a snug enough fashion.
- Live Price: $99.00
- Driver: Single Dynamic Microdriver
- Frequency Range: 22 – 17, 500 Hz
- Ohms: 20
- Replaceable cables: Yes
- Warranty: 2 year
The Shure SE215’s are the more affordable version of the Shure SE535, which are what my friend Gareth calls the ‘gold standard of in-ear monitors’. He suggested looking at the ‘hifi’ version for a cheaper alternative.
My friend Bernie also suggested the SE215’s, commenting:
They are simple, durable. And while they sound bass heavy it makes them fun to listen to over long periods. The cables roll over the back of yours ears to make you feel like you’re on stage.
Where as the SE535’s feature triple high definition microdrivers, the SE215’s settle for a single dynamic micro driver. But they are also $300 less!
Shure sells them as having a ‘detailed sound with enhanced bass’, which is what Bernie was talking about.
Editor Ben Mills had this to say about them
I’ve had a pair for years and really like them, I’ve not used them to edit but I imagine they’re pretty good. Comfortable for long haul flights though!
In every review I looked at whilst researching this post, the SE215 made a regular appearance in most reviewers lists, or their reader’s comments.
Given the longevity of this popularity, they’re definitely on my shortlist to get my hands on and have a proper listen. You’ve also got to hope they benefit from some trickle-down technology from the more expensive and superior models in the range.
This isn’t something you’ll hopefully encounter during a long edit session, but the SE215’s are built to withstand “stage conditions which includes a lot of sweat.” This however does make them useful for the dual purpose of listening to music whilst running.
- Price: $44.95
- Driver: Dynamic
- Frequency Range: 19 – 21,000 Hz
- Ohms: 16
- Replaceable cables: No
I’m a big fan of Sennheiser headphones and always enjoy using my Sennheiser HD380 Pros or HD6 Mix’s. I also own the highly affordable and high quality, CX 300-II in-ears.
They might not be much to look at, compared to some of the much more expensive headphones in this list, but they deliver a really great sound for a fraction of the cost.
I’ve ended up buying a couple of these over the years as they’ve worn out but they’re a permanent fixture in my freelance editing bag.
This means I’ve always got a set of headphones I know and can trust with me, even if I forget to bring along my trusty Beyerdynamic DT770 Pros.
My friend Gareth weighed in on these too, saying
I have the CX300 II and I can confirm they are one of the best performance/value in ear headphones out there, though I haven’t tried many high end in ear headphones, they certainly perform decently compared to some of my more expensive over ear headphones.
Certainly worth getting even just as a casual pair for commuting use.
Beware due to their popularity there are fakes out there, so buy direct from Amazon or a reputable seller, not Amazon marketplace.
If you were to only consider buying one set of headphones from this post, I would wager that these will not disappoint.
- Price: $50
- Driver: Dynamic
- Frequency Range: 15 – 22,000 Hz
- Ohms: 51
Lastly, to round out this list, here is another set of affordable in-ear headphones, the SoundMAGIC E50 again recommended by my composer friend Bernie.
Cheap. Great for vocals. Deliver a flat sound which is good for finding problems in a mix!
They’re also made entirely of light weight but rugged aluminium so they should be more durable than some of their plastic compatriots. Although I wonder how much they weigh?
If you like the look of these you might also want to check out the ultra popular E10s too. They’re slightly cheaper but seem to have delighted many headphone aficionados.
It’s always impossible to test the veracity of the reviews on Amazon but this one caught my eye.
This is my first online purchase of hundreds to persuade me to sit down and type out a review. I wish I would have found these before paying $180 for the VSonic GR07, THAT’S how good these are! Don’t get me wrong, the VSonics are still fantastic earphones, but when speaking in terms of sheer VALUE, nothing beats the SoundMAGIC E10s.
I own over a dozen mid-fi headphones which are classified as audiophile grade, the majority ranging in price from $90-$300… That being said, these are pure 100% KING.
The sound signature is very comparable to my MUCH more expensive V-MODA Crossfade M-100 but in a sweet little $35 package. I don’t know how they did it.
If you are currently looking at the ultra popular Klipsch IMAGE S4 (coming from someone who has owned his S4s for 2 1/2 years) DO yourself a favor and skip those for these.
Accessories for In-Ear Headphones
I once heard a comedian (I don’t remember who!) tell a joke about in-ear headphones.
How do you tie a knot that’s impossible to untie?
Put your headphones in your pocket. Wait 15 seconds. Take them out, and you’re done!
If that’s true for you, then you’re in luck because almost all of the headphones in this post come with a carrying case, which you can use if you want to.
Or you can follow Dieter Bohn’s pro tip on how to tie them up nicely in 10 seconds before you pop them in your bag.
There are three or four accessories you can buy for your brand new headphones; cases, replacement cables, tips of various sizes and materials and clips to keep cables tidied away.
Although, again, if you’ve bought any of the headphones in this list they probably already come with most or all of these included.
The accessory it seems worth highlighting though is the tip.
Everyone seems to favour the brand ‘Comply’ and many of the headphones in this list come with a set of these included.
They do make a lot of different types though, so I thought it would help to share a few pointers. There are models for
- Better isolation from background sound
- Better comfort over long periods
- Better grip during sporting activities
Focusing on the Comfort related products, you now need to find the right fit for the soundport on your headphones
Earphones have different soundport nozzle designs and sizes. We have tips to fit them all, based on 4 main models (100, 200, 400, and 500). Use our Fit Finder to see which model is right for your earphone.
For example the 400 models will fit on the Sennheiser CX 300-II where as the 100 models will fit on the Shure SE215 headphones.
Use the ‘Fit Finder’ on the Comply site to run through your brand and model, but also be sure to select the correct size (Small, Medium, Large) on Amazon that will fit with your ear canal.
They even make foam strips to fit onto custom moulded in-ears too.
If you were confused at all about how to actually install and wear these Comply tips, they’ve even made a video for that.
Final Thoughts on Choosing Headphones for Film Editing
At the end of the day I would rather spend my money on a set of Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro Headphones (80 ohm) for long editing sessions. If you want more details on how I came to this conclusion check out this previous post on the Best Headphones for Film Editors.
They sound amazing, are incredibly comfortable and have lasted me very well for several years so far.
But, if having a much more compact set of comfortable, reliable and accurate in-ear headphones is crucial for your day to day editing (or commuting!) then I would go for the Shure SE215 or the Audio Technica ATH-E40, unless you can afford more!
To me these provide the best balance of budget, quality and likely comfort.
After all that, if you can’t see something that fits into your budget or personal taste then why not check out Amazon’s own Headphone Buying Guide here.
Browse through hundreds of options within all kinds of categories like in-ear, over-ear, noise cancelling, noise isolating, bluetooth and more, plus at prices to match everyone’s wallet from $25 to $200 and above.