As someone who takes music quite seriously, I used to travel with a pair of Sony MDR-7506 studio monitor headphones. While these are excellent headphones for the price, unfortunately they aren’t exactly small and portable, making them too bulky for my ultralight GaiaGeek travels. I wanted something the size of the earbud-style earphones, but those earbuds just can’t deliver what I want when it comes to bass.
Enter the in-ear earphones, otherwise known as “noise-isolating earphones,” “canal-phones” or simply “inserts” because of how they are inserted into the entrance to your ear canal. By creating a tight seal to the entrance your ear, the sound that these in-ear earphones deliver is far more full than anything earbuds can deliver – especially when it comes to bass.
My first pair was the “The Plug” by Koss, which lasted me a good long while and I recently had replaced free of charge (minus shipping costs) thanks to the lifetime warranty that comes with all Koss headphones. While they gave me the ultralight package and decent bass I was looking for at a very reasonable price, the sound quality and clarity was lacking, especially in the higher ranges. In addition, since I often listen to music with one ear pressed against a pillow, I found that the body of The Plug was big enough that it pressed into my ear, which became quickly uncomfortable and forced me to adjust the position of my head so as to prevent it.
Enter my recently discovered favorite and new world travel accessory, the Creative EP-630 In-Ear Earphones. These deliver excellent sound quality, from the bass through to clear highs, also at a very reasonable price – in some cases a full blown steal. There’s been speculation as to whether these are clones of the Sennheiser CX300 earphones which look identical yet carry a more hefty price tag. In a Consumer Reports December 2006 comparison (subscription required) of different headphones, the Sennheiser CX300 led the in-ear inserts class by a huge lead, scoring more than double all the other earphones in this class including the Shure E3c: a very high-end earphone that retails for $180. It’s still uncertain as to whether the EP-630 and the CX300 are, in fact, identical and it’s been pointed out that the fequency response specs between the two is different. However, for what it’s worth, at least one comparison by a user who actually has both revealed that he could not tell the difference between the two of them, so even if they aren’t identical clones, they’re very similar in quality and regardless of all speculation, you’re getting excellent sounding in-ear earphones for an excellent price.
The EP-630s offer another advantage over the Koss model and many other of this style in that they’re compact enough that they don’t press uncomfortably into my ear while resting my head against a pillow. This makes them an even better option for drowning out the noise and catching some sleep on a plane – or in a noisy hostel or hotel room. Because of their noise-isolating effect, any of the earphones of this style tend to make decent enough earplugs that when I’m on a plane I tend to keep them in even if I’m not listening to any music just, to drown out the ambient sounds of the plane.
One catch with this style of earphones is that you get a bit of the stethoscope effect while wearing them: due to the fact that those earphones creating a tight seal to your ear canal have cords attached to them, any moving of those cords produces a noticeable sound in the ear. This is bothersome to some users, especially if you plan on wearing these walking or running – which wouldn’t be a wise thing to do with these anyway since it would be like running with earplugs in. I don’t personally don’t find the noise bothersome even when walking with these in, and it’s well worth it to have a pair of headphones that produce such clear sound yet weigh less than an ounce and fit in my pocket with my MP3 phone, which saves me from digging through my carry-on after I’ve boarded the plane.