• June 20, 2024, 2:38 am

The best IEMS for 2024, tested and reviewed SoftAIT

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Update : Saturday, December 23, 2023


Listening to a great pair of wired in-ear monitors the best IEMS for the first time can be a revelatory experience. Low profile and portable, they’re perfect for taking on the go and offer a huge leap in resolution from TWS earbuds without attracting the same attention as a larger pair of over-ear headphones. The IEM market is surging, which means competition and innovation are hot. If you’re looking for a great listening experience, you can find something for everyone’s taste among the best IEMs, even on a tight budget.

In-ear monitors have experienced an upswing in popularity over the last several years. Unlike the best wireless earbuds, IEMs still use a cable and put sound quality at the top of their priority list. You’ll need a dedicated digital audio player, a smartphone with a headphone jack, or a portable DAC to use them, and microphones and software-based features like active noise cancellation are reserved for the best ANC earbuds. But when it comes to richness, detail, and style, a great pair of IEMs is what you need. With so many options, finding the right pair for you can be challenging, so we’ve done the research for you. These are the best IEMs of 2023.

How we chose the best IEMs

I began covering technology as a budding tech critic in 2015. In 2018, I began covering personal audio for the classic PC gaming and tech site, MMORPG.com, as the Hardware and Technology Editor. Since then, I’ve covered personal audio products for numerous websites, including Tom’s Hardware, IGN, and right here at Popular Science. Collecting, testing, and enjoying IEMs has become a passion of mine, leading to a collection of nearly 60 different sets, upwards of a dozen DACs and amps, and more digital audio players than any one man should own at a time. I love IEMs and deeply appreciate the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between them.

To select the best IEMs of the year, I went back through more than 25 pairs I tested this year and compared them with a mix of professional and user reviews, as well as input from fellow IEM enthusiast, and Popular Science Editor, Tony Ware. Because determining the “best” of any IEM is always subjective, I broke this list into 10 categories segmented by price and design. Within that framework, I considered the quality of the drivers, fit and comfort, frequency response, tuning, and how each performed on a technical level.

The best IEMs: Reviews & Recommendations

Now that you know what to look for, you’re ready to choose something that meets your needs. What you’ll find below is a collection of IEMs that represent the best each category has to offer, allowing you to find the best IEMs for you or someone who loves music as much as you do.

Best overall: Thieaudio Monarch MKIII



  • Price: $999
  • Drivers: x2 dynamic drivers, x6 balanced armatures, x2 electrostatics
  • Frequency response: 20Hz – 80kHz
  • Sensitivity: 99dB/mW
  • Impedance: 18 ohms


  • Fast, detailed, and powerful bass
  • Fantastic detail and soundstage
  • Airy yet non-fatiguing treble


  • Sparse accessories
  • Large size

The Thieaudio Monarch MKIII is the third version of this popular pair of earphones and is its most well-rounded and crowd-pleasing yet. It uses a whopping 20 drivers between its two earpieces—each a trifecta of two dynamic drivers, six balanced armatures, and two electrostatics. This combination allows it to deliver a sound signature that is full and dynamic, rich in detail, and with an impressively wide soundstage. These earphones don’t come cheap, but they’re absolutely class-leading and outperform pairs I’ve heard that cost a grand more, so they manage to feel like your best value because of it.

Best planar magnetic: 7Hz Timeless AE

7Hz Timeless AE


  • Price: $259
  • Drivers: 14.2mm planar magnetic
  • Frequency response: 5Hz – 40kHz
  • Sensitivity: 104dB/mW
  • Impedance: 14.8 ohm


  • Improved bass and soundstage from the original
  • Excellent detail retrieval
  • Included modular cable


  • Potential fit issues due to large faceplates

The original 7Hz Timeless earned a cult fanbase, and for good reason: they were one of the first pairs to deliver a true planar-magnetic listening experience in an IEM format at a reasonable price (planars typically being a type of driver found in expensive full-sized flagship headphones and costly earphones). The Timeless AE is a collaboration IEM with the popular AliExpress audio store, Angelears, and addresses the biggest criticism against the original: bass. While the original Timeless was highly regarded for its excellent detail and crisp sound signature, it leaned into the mids and highs, leaving low-end a touch thin. That’s no longer the case with the Timeless AE, making this the most well-rounded and fun planar-magnetic earphone you can buy today.

Best for single dynamic driver: Sennheiser IE 600

Textured silver alloy IE 600 dynamic driver in-ear monitors hanging across a Sennheiser branded black carrying case


  • Price: $599
  • Drivers: 7mm TrueResponse dynamic driver
  • Frequency response: 4Hz – 46.5kHz
  • Sensitivity: 118dB/mW
  • Impedance: 18 ohms


  • Cohesive, smooth, yet detailed sound signature
  • Excellent fit
  • Detachable balanced cable


  • Texture can cause comfort issues
  • Included tips are poor

Few audio brands are as highly esteemed as Sennheiser, but while its headphones are widely regarded as some of the best you can buy, its IEMs have been more hit or miss. The IE 600 is absolutely a hit, delivering well-balanced bass and exceptional clarity with the cohesion only a single dynamic driver can provide. In a word, the IE 600 is smooth, and it’s that very quality that will have you carrying it with you so it can carry you through the day.

With a velvety midrange that benefits vocals and lush instrumentation alike, it’s pure audio enjoyment. Well, that and exceptional comfort. Since there’s only one driver to fit into each earpiece, they can be quite small and low profile, with custom dual-chamber system used to tune the tone and tone the tunes. They’re also robust enough to withstand the wear and tear of daily use since the housings are made of 3D-printed ZR01 amorphous zirconium—an alloy that’s three times harder than steel—and they have a detachable cable that can be replaced or upgraded. Reviewers at another site claimed some irritation from the hand finish, but this doesn’t seem widely reported elsewhere. What is echoed is that the ear tips are sub-par, so you may want to invest in some aftermarket tips to make the most of the IE 600 (as seen in the image above).

Are you a highly analytical listener and want to eke out the tail end of every transient? For the ultimate in resolution, you can step up to the Sennheiser IE 900 at $899.

Best hybrid: Moondrop Blessing 3

Moondrop Blessing 3


  • Price: $319.99
  • Drivers: x2 dynamic driver, x2 balanced armature
  • Frequency response: 10Hz – 30kHz
  • Sensitivity: 120dB/mW
  • Impedance: 14.8 ohms


  • Detailed, textured sub-bass
  • Excellent layering and presentation
  • Smooth yet crisp treble


The Moondrop Blessing 2 was a seminal IEM for the affordable audiophile hobby, representing the very best of what ChiFi could produce: outstanding sonics at a reasonable price. The Moondrop Blessing 3 is as worthy of a successor as we could have hoped for, delivering a crisp, detailed listening experience with newfound low-end body. It’s a stellar example of what hybrid IEMs do best: splitting the frequencies into ranges each driver can specialize in.

The Blessing 3 builds on its predecessor by adding a second 10mm dynamic driver to the mix and integrating it in what Moondrop calls its H.O.D.D.D.U.S. system. That’s Horizontally Opposed Dual Dynamic Drivers Unit System, which in human terms means the dynamic drivers are positioned back to back, allowing their magnetic fields to cross over and supplement one another. The result is more, better bass. The mids and highs are split between four balanced armatures per side using electronics and dedicated sound tubes that lead directly to the nozzle. Vocals are silky, instruments are natural, and the presentation is spacious and realistic.

One thing Moondrop didn’t make much headway in is its large size. Like the Thieaudio Monarch MKIII, these are big IEMs that won’t work well for smaller listeners. For average ears and up, it’s an excellent choice that highlights why hybrid IEMs have become so popular.

Best value quadbrid: Kiwi Ears Quintet

Brushed Silver Kiwi Ears Quintet universal in-ear monitors hanging off a cactus


  • Price: $219
  • Drivers: x1 dynamic driver, x2 balanced armatures, x1 planar-magnetic driver, x1 piezoelectric (PZT) bone conductor
  • Frequency response: 20Hz – 30KHz
  • Sensitivity: 106dB/mW
  • Impedance: 32 ohms


  • Palpable and projected performance that competes above its price range
  • Unique driver array that stays gelled during dynamic swings
  • Excellent detail retrieval for an affordable IEM
  • Easy to drive, very source-friendly


  • Highs may sound too zesty for the treble-sensitive
  • Not the most spacious soundstage

If you want to hear more but not pay more, brands like Kiwi Ears are using trickle-down tech in ways that don’t push up prices. A quad-driver configuration used to be serious enthusiast territory, but is now within entry-level reach. That doesn’t mean rudimentary sound, however. A combination of a diamond-like carbon (DLC) dynamic driver, two balanced armature (BA) drivers, a micro-planar transducers (MPT) tweeter system, and a piezoelectric (PZT) bone conductor sounds like it could be incoherent, but ends up sounding quite articulate without being overly aggressive.

Packed within a snugly fitting 3D-printed resin shell, behind logo-embossed anodized metal faceplates, this five-driver-per-ear configuration offers a shallow U-shaped tuning. Vented, there’s no excess pressure or driver flex. Bass is warm without being wooly, mostly controlled while hitting perceivable subbass when called upon. The low-end buoys the lower mids slightly but not so much as to obscure texture. There’s still plenty of airy energy, with instruments isolated and impactful within the adequate soundstage. Still, the Quintet produces engaging technicalities and authentic timbre thru the upper treble, which can be a little shouty, but excess sparkle can be tempered through warmer sources, eartip rolling, and/or opting for a third-party 2-pin pure copper cable over the included 4-core oxygen-free silver-plated copper cable. However, if you’re not adversely sensitive to sizzle the stock cable is solid and free of microphonics.

The Kiwi Ears Quintet is a crisp package, both in its look and while listening. There is appropriate depth and detail, with instruments punchy and well-positioned. You could spend more, but the Kiwi Quintet supports a balanced sound and budget with aplomb.

Best premium: 64 Audio Volur

64 Audio Volür



  • Price: $2,499
  • Drivers: x2 dynamic drivers, x8 balanced armatures
  • Frequency response: 5Hz – 22kHz
  • Sensitivity: 103dB/mW
  • Impedance: 6.3 ohms


  • Excellent for mid-range instruments and vocals
  • Tight, fast, and well-textured bass
  • Effective tuning nozzles to adjust the sound to your preference


  • Upper treble can be a bit hot

Made in the USA, the 64 Audio Volur is a showcase of innovation and craftsmanship. This hybrid IEM uses a 10-driver array consisting of two dynamic drivers and eight balanced armatures. There are no less than three patented systems at play in its design, and one of the most unique bass systems we’ve encountered yet. It also features replaceable tuning nozzles to fine-tune the sound for your exact preferences. The result is earphones offering some of the best low-end out there, crisp and detailed mids, and sparkling highs.

The bass is one of the most remarkable and interesting aspects of the Volur. Its two dynamic drivers are positioned in a true isobaric chamber, one of which is sealed off, increasing power, clarity, and lowering the noise floor, all before hitting a custom low-pass filer. The highs are just as innovative, utilizing a patented tubeless driver system that 64 Audio calls Tia, or Tubeless In-Ear Audio. The highs travel through a waveguide into acoustic chambers and hit the ear more naturally.

Despite having 10 drivers, they’re small enough to fit in most ears and are made of aluminum to last a lifetime. They’re also gorgeous with reworked gem-like faceplates. The biggest downside, apart from being priced firmly in splurge territory, is that the highs can sound slightly hot on some tracks. But since there are four tuning nozzles that each cater to different listening tastes, even this isn’t a major drawback. The Volur is pricey but worth trying first-hand.

Best all-balanced armature: DUNU SA6 MKII



  • Price: $579.00
  • Drivers: x6 balanced armatures
  • Frequency response: 5Hz – 40kHz
  • Sensitivity: 114dB/mW
  • Impedance: 24 ohms


  • Detail-rich sound
  • Surprisingly great soundstage
  • Tuning switch adds plenty of extra bass


  • Timbre can sound slightly etched

Balanced armatures once had a reputation for sounding thin compared to a dynamic or planar driver, but the DUNU SA6 MKII proves that an all-BA set can deliver powerful bass when tuned correctly. At the same time, these IEMs deliver incredible detail and one of the most spacious listening experiences you’ll find under $1,000. With six drivers embedded into each earpiece, DUNU splits its frequencies into the classic lows, mids, and highs but dedicates two drivers to each. Vented Sonion woofers handle the lows while customized Knowles drivers drive the mids and highs for a fine-tuned listening experience that’s smooth yet rich in immersive detail and tonally sweet.

The SA6 MKII’s trump card is the tiny tuning switch built into the back of each earpiece. Toggled on, this enables Atmospheric Immersion Mode for cinematic bass. In the off position, the sound field is more balanced, allowing you to hear every breath and slide across the fretboard. If there’s one criticism to be levied against it, it’s that the sound can sometimes sound too crisp with a subtle etched quality akin to applying sharpening to a photograph (a classic trait of balanced armatures). However, this hardly diminishes the listening experience and can even be enjoyable if you’re a fan of crisp details. These earphones are simply a fantastic choice for fans of carefully considered balanced armature configurations.

Best for live performers: Ultimate Ears Premier

Amethyst and silver UE branded Premier custom molded in-ear monitors for performers on top of a black Ultimate Ears carrying case



  • Price: $2,999
  • Drivers: x21 balanced armatures
  • Frequency response: 5Hz-40kHz
  • Sensitivity: 120dB/mW
  • Impedance: 15 ohms


  • Outstanding clarity and detail
  • Totally personalized
  • One of the most EQ-friendly IEMs
  • Isolating, with optional environmental passthrough


  • Deep fit can be uncomfortable initially to the unaccustomed
  • Requires a trip to an audiologist at extra cost
  • Don’t sit flush with your ear
  • Extremely expensive

When you’re performing live with other musicians, hearing the mix and where you fit within it is critical. When lesser earphones won’t do, the Ultimate Ears (UE) Premier stands ready as the premium, fully customizable option (aesthetically and sonically) that is just as individual and professional as your own musical style. These earphones are custom-made using second-bend impressions of your ear canal (or 3D scans at select locations), so when they arrive at your door, they perfectly match your ear—and no one else’s. This provides the very best in sound isolation (up to 26dB) to protect your hearing while also allowing you to hear everything true to life. The Premier also offers (for a fee) an optional Ambient Feature, a small plug that can be undone to allow 12dB of environmental bleed to hear the stage and crowd and keep more in touch with both.

These earphones use an astounding 21 balanced armatures per ear, with a five-way passive crossover, to deliver their sound. While that might seem like overkill, UE groups these clusters into sub-sections of the frequency spectrum for improved accuracy. There are two dual sub-low speakers (4 drivers), dual mid-low diaphragm groups (8 drivers), a quad mid-frequency setup (4 drivers), as well as one True Tone Plus driver and a quad Knowles Super Tweeter (4 drivers) that extends to 40kHz specifically for overtones and upper-level harmonics, so instruments ring true to life in your ears.

The stock tuning is midrange forward without being congested, sacrificing neither distortion-free low-end nor extended yet unfatiguing highs but rather maintaining the most weight in the range where music truly lives. From growl to gossamer, texture and tonality are rich and fully realized. Ultimately, however, what the Premier’s bottomless well of headroom allows is for the monitor engineer to carve a curve tailored to each musician, isolate a band within the band. If you need to sync to sequencing or track trailing notes, the UE Premier offers percussive snap and effortless transients, definition and directional cues. Similarly, audiophiles tired of seeking a Goldilocks house sound and who aren’t anti-EQ can sculpt their perfect response and take advantage of the bounty of instrument separation. The UE Premier’s strength is that it can play to yours (achieving its full potential with some processing or an experienced engineer).

Forty-two total drivers and fully molded earpieces don’t come cheap, and there’s more legwork with this pair than any other set on our list. You’ll need to visit an audiologist for a scan of your ears, which adds additional time and cost to this already pricey set (and there’s no option for resale with customs). Then you wait the 15 business days (on average) for your set to be produced and delivered. The final product is made entirely of 3D-printed acrylic, which can feel uncomfortably stiff and deep if they’re your first molded pair. However, for isolation, clarity, and a locked fit on stage, plus an IPX67 (waterproof) connection system and Super BAX cable for long-term durability (and things get sweaty under the stage lights), these are exquisite and a worthwhile investment.

Best for the studio: Etymotic ER4SR

Etymotic ER4SR


  • Price: $299.99
  • Drivers: Single balanced armature
  • Frequency response: 20Hz – 16kHz
  • Sensitivity: 98dB/mW
  • Impedance: 45 ohms


  • Detailed and accurate sound
  • Very small yet robustly made
  • Designed with sound engineers in mind


  • Deep fit can be off putting
  • Require more power to drive to full volume

If mixing and mastering is your livelihood, then you need accuracy. The Etymotic ER4SR is designed with exactly that purpose in mind. The sound signature on these IEMs was crafted with careful attention to balance across all of the frequencies. Understanding that the way sound waves hit your ears from an in-ear monitor is far different than a traditional studio monitor, these IEMs fully compensate for those differences, ensuring you hear the music exactly as it was produced, every time. Of course, if you want a little more energy, the ER4XR offers exactly that with a smidge more bass while still being accurate throughout the mids and highs. Just be prepared to give either pair a bit of extra power because they’re harder to drive than most other earphones.

Etymotic is a bit of an icon in the in-ear monitor world, not only for its reference sound signature but also for its unique deep-insertion fit. These earphones offer your choice of triple-flange or foam ear tips and fit deeper in the ear canal for impeccable sound isolation. It’s great for blocking out the world to focus on your mix but takes some getting used to, a learning curve that some people never fully come to grips with. However, for sound engineers looking for balanced monitors, it’s worth acclimating to.

Best IEM accessory: iFi Go pods

The best IEMS


  • Price: $399
  • Output power: 120mW into 32 ohms
  • Frequency response: 10Hz – 20kHz
  • Bit-depth/sample rate: 32-bit/96kHz
  • Format support: LDAC, LHDC/HWA, aptX Adaptive, aptX, AAC, SBC
  • Battery Life: 7 hours + 30 hours with the case


  • Enough power to drive even demanding IEMs
  • Excellent high-res audio support
  • Long battery life


  • Bulky
  • Large charging case

Audiophiles may seem to love their cables, but make no mistake: we would go wireless if we didn’t have to sacrifice audio quality to get there. That’s where the GO pods from iFi Audio come in. This novel accessory adds a high-quality DAC and amp into a Bluetooth ear hook, complementing it with a full assortment of high-resolution wireless codecs. It’s as close to zero compromises as wireless adapters come and allows you to finally enjoy high-quality audio without being tethered to your phone or DAP.

We believe iFi Audio has been making some of the best DACs and amps for years, and all of that know-how has made its way into the GO pod. They’re powerful enough for any IEM, with automatic impedance detection and up to 120mW of total output power/output voltage of 4V, and are rated for an impressive seven hours of use with another 30 provided by the charging case. They offer interchangeable loops with connectors for both MMCX and 0.78mm 2-pin IEMs included in the package and Pentagon, T2, and A2DC connectors available separately. With an equally high-quality stream, the GO pods’ Cirrus Logic MasterHIFI and Qualcomm’s QCC5144 Bluetooth 5.2 chipset facilitates resolution up to an impressive 32-bit/96kHz through connections including LDAC, LHDC, aptX Adaptive, as well as traditional AAC and SBC for standard streaming quality. Attached to IEMs such as the Campfire Audio Solaris Stellar Horizon pictured above, reproduction is as stable as it is supple, appropriately authoritative with a bombastic, emotional, and agile response.

At its core, the iFi GO pods are adapters and are more bulky than traditional earbuds. That’s also true of the charging case, which we hope slims down in a future version. Still, for using your IEMs on the go, they’re IPX5-rated, have a built-in microphone utilizing Qualcomm’s cVc noise suppression technology, and are a wonderful choice that essentially turns any upscale earphones found on this list into true wireless.

Best budget: FiiO FH11

The best IEMS

The best IEMS


  • Price: $54.99
  • Drivers: 10mm dynamic driver, balanced armature
  • Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz
  • Sensitivity: 111dB/mW
  • Impedance: 24 ohms


  • Great value
  • Durable aluminum design
  • Bass rich yet detailed sound


  • Bass can bleed into the mids
  • Long nozzles can present a comfort issue

Though it built its reputation on portable amplifiers and accessories, FiiO has quietly made some of the best value IEMs for years. If you’re on a budget, the FiiO FH11 should be on your must-buy list. They’re made entirely of metal to withstand the rigors of daily use, include a replaceable cable for even more peace of mind, and, most importantly, sound great for a wide range of music, movies, and games.

These conch-inspired earphones are the second half of FiiO’s budget-minded releases this year, with the other half being the FD11. Unlike that model, which used a single dynamic driver and opted for a milder and more neutral sound signature, the FH11 uses both a dynamic driver and balanced armature for its sonics and leans into the bass for a more fun listening experience.

The FH11 uses longer nozzles, so fit may be an issue if you have particularly sensitive ear canals. The heightened bass can also make the mids sound a bit too warm at times; it’s not a problem for hip-hop or pop, but fans of jazz and classical may prefer to lower it with EQ or opt for the FD11. Overall, this is just a delightful listen and comes in at a great price.

Buying IEMs can be surprisingly complicated. There’s a lot to consider, and it can be very hard to try them for yourself ahead of time. It’s helpful to have an idea of the type of sound you’re looking for ahead of time—bass-rich, bright and detailed, great for vocals, etc.—but here are some other important things to look for when shopping.

Size and shape

IEMs are much more “personal” than over-ear headphones, and finding a comfortable fit is critical. Small IEMs are usually easy to accommodate for most listeners, especially with larger silicone or foam ear tips. Choosing an IEM that’s too large for you can cause discomfort in your ear canal and outer ear, creating fatigue and cutting your listening sessions short. To have the best experience, choose an earphone that matches your ears. If that’s not possible, you may need to invest in aftermarket ear tips that add more grip within your ear canal.

Along with this, it’s important to pay attention to the shape. The inner surface of each earpiece is the most important. Look for smooth contours and avoid hard angles that look like they may make contact with your ear. Earphones like the Plussound Allegro have inner bevels that look great but can become uncomfortable over time for some listeners. If you have smaller ears, the outer face may also be important. Some listeners find the 7Hz Timeless uncomfortable when its large circular faceplates make contact with their ears. Comfort is king with in-ears, so it should be at the top of your priority list alongside sound quality.


The type of transducer, or driver, an IEM uses directly impacts its sound. The four main types of drivers are dynamic, balanced armature, planar magnetic, and electrostatic. While dynamic drivers are the most common and are a great all-around choice, manufacturers often mix driver types to leverage their specialties, designating certain frequencies for each. How they’re customized, or tuned, also plays a large role. Here is how they break down in general terms:

  • Dynamic drivers (DD): Conical drivers driven by a powerful magnet and voice coil, similar to what you’ll find in large box speakers. These transducers are known for delivering impactful bass but can sound great across the entire frequency range.
  • Balanced armatures (BA): These tiny speakers often play a supporting role, typically in the mids and highs, but can be leveraged to deliver a full-bodied sound all on their own. Popular in hearing aids, balanced armatures are known for their crisp detail.
  • Planar magnetic: These drivers use a large, flat membrane traced with electrical filament and flanked by powerful magnets. Thanks to their large size and high sensitivity, planar magnetic drivers are known for their excellent clarity, speed, and detail while also having vanishingly low distortion.
  • Electrostatic (EST): Electrostatics, or ESTs, are boutique drivers that cater to the ultra-high frequencies. ESTs often enhance the subtleties of the listening experience, such as the sense of air, atmosphere, and upper-level harmonic resonances.

While each driver type has its fans, there is no “best IEM driver.” Each type has strengths and weaknesses, and how the manufacturer uses each driver is often much more important than the actual driver type. With that said, some of the best IEMs use multiple types to provide the best of all worlds.

Frequency response

An IEM’s frequency response is the range of frequencies it can produce and the balance between them. This is usually simplified to the bass, mids, and treble and creates the particular flavor of sound each earphone is able to deliver. While you truly won’t know how you feel about an IEM without auditioning it, it can often be difficult to try every IEM before purchasing, so we recommend utilizing graph databases like In-Ear Fidelity and Squig.Link to get a visual impression of the balance of sound an IEM is likely to produce and how it lines up with your preferred personal audio components.

Frequency response is represented in a graph that spans from roughly 20Hz to 20kHz, the range of human hearing. IEMs are tested using sound impulses that produce a curve indicating their balance across this range. A bump in the lower frequencies means more bass, while a rise on the other end may indicate that an IEM is sharp. Interpreting graphs is challenging, so we always recommend pairing these examinations with professional and user reviews to hear how those curves translate to real life.


The audio hobby is deep, and prices can extend well into the halo-tier of products. It’s not unheard of to find simple cables selling for thousands of dollars. While there is some truth to the adage “you get what you pay for,” it’s also important to note that diminishing returns are a very real part of the hobby. Many great IEMs don’t cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, and those that do may not offer the level of improvement you might expect for such an increase in price. Research any product you’re considering and look into competitors that may offer savings. Along with this, we always recommend being aware of your vendor’s return policy if it turns out you’d rather try something else.


Q: Are IEMs better for gaming?

While IEMs can be great for gaming, over-ear headphones are often better. This is because IEMs usually have a decreased sense of space compared to over-ear headphones. Full-size cans can also have open-backs, extending the soundstage further, a trait that is still uncommon among in-ear monitors. With that said, IEMs typically offer better isolation and are much lower profile. It’s also not unheard of for IEMs to offer a wide soundstage, though this is a quality it’s wise to shop specifically for. Enabling spatial audio solutions like Windows Sonic (free with Windows) and Dolby Atmos ($14.99 on the Windows Store) are very helpful for increasing an IEM’s sense of space.

Q: Are IEMs better than headphones?

Not necessarily. The choice between headphones and IEMs comes down to personal preference. It is true that IEMs can often be a better value, especially if you’re open to purchasing from international brands like 7Hz or DUNU and storefronts like Linsoul. The IEM space is extremely competitive with new models released all the time, so the price-to-performance ratio is often higher with in-ears than over-ears.

Q: Are IEMs better than wireless earbuds?

When it comes to sound quality, yes. In order to send audio through the air, wireless earphones apply compression algorithms which decreases sound quality. While true wireless earbuds win major points in convenience, there’s no beating a dedicated wire when it comes to hearing every bit of detail in your favorite music. Ultimately, whether one is better than the other for you will depend on how much you value acoustics versus the convenience of listening wirelessly.

Final thoughts on the best IEMS

A great pair of IEMs allows you to take enrapturing sound quality anywhere you go. Finding a pair that resonates with your tastes can quickly make it one of your most satisfying purchases. Now that you know what to look for and what the best picks are today, you have the tools to find that perfect IEM and take your enjoyment to new heights (as well as new lows and plush, perfectly balanced mids).

Why trust us

Popular Science started writing about technology more than 150 years ago. There was no such thing as “gadget writing” when we published our first issue in 1872, but if there was, our mission to demystify the world of innovation for everyday readers means we would have been all over it. Here in the present, PopSci is fully committed to helping readers navigate the increasingly intimidating array of devices on the market right now.

Our writers and editors have combined decades of experience covering and reviewing consumer electronics. We each have our own obsessive specialties—from high-end audio to video games to cameras and beyond—but when we’re reviewing devices outside of our immediate wheelhouses, we do our best to seek out trustworthy voices and opinions to help guide people to the very best recommendations. We know we don’t know everything, but we’re excited to live through the analysis paralysis that internet shopping can spur so readers don’t have to.


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