In-Ear Headphones Face Off Page 10

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THE LAST WORD

With all the serious contenders lined up on the same starting line in this earphone Olympics, there was simply no place to hide. That's an apt analogy: Several 'phones that are known to sound very good had their flaws viciously exposed against the marginally better competition. That's the way it is with world-class athletes, and so it was with world-class earphones.

It's hard to declare an overall winner here that would work for everyone's musical tastes. My personal top pick is the Ultimate Ears, which to my ear surpassed the other contenders in imaging, openness, and natural dynamics. But I can see how its more visceral bottom end might be a bit much over time for some listeners.

From there, it's a toss-up between the Etymotic and the Sennheiser. Both had an uncommon elegance to their sound. Ultimately, I felt like the Sennheiser was the more refined in the critical midrange and highs, but I suppose that the Etymotic, with its marginally better bass and dynamics, and considerably lower price tag, will probably get the nod from most folks.

For the value play in that $250 to $300 range, the Monster and Sleek Audio are right up there, offering viable alternatives to the Etymotic. The Sleek's excellent sonics, sound-tuning abilities, cool wireless option, and $250 price make it a great choice. And the Monster is beautiful to touch and behold, a solid high-end component if ever there was one, and its good bass and musicality speak for themselves.

In the end, though, you won't be anything less than amazed with any of these tiny top performers. They all let you hear into your music in a way that regular speakers don't, and they present an engaging and addictive way to rediscover your collection.

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