An Introduction to Canalphones, AKA Earbud Headphones

Most people really don’t care about headphones. They buy an iPod, and, thrilled that they have an iPod, stick its crappy little white headphones into their ears and go merrily off about their way, without any clue of what they are missing. I was this way for a long time, until, about two years ago, I tried on my friend’s pair of relatively crummy noise canceling headphones, which, while being relatively crummy, were a whole heck of a lot better than the five-dollar-at-Walgreens things I had been using. Now, two years later, I just returned a pair of $300 Bose QuietComfort headphones, on the grounds that they don’t sound good enough. My search for excellent audio continues.
The kind of headphone that this search has lead me to is one that has only really become popular within the past few years. Canalphones, or in-ear monitors, as they are sometimes called, actually go in your ear, rather than over it, as even earbuds do. They form a tight seal, and thus direct all their carefully-tuned sound strait to your ear drum, giving you the best, most accurate audio quality.

Canalphones have a number of advantages over other kinds of headphones. First, they do an excellent job of noise reduction. While on-ear headphones like the afformentioned Bose QuietComfort 2’s devote a great deal of effort, not to mention a great deal of their value, to blocking out the noises of the outside world, canalphones, since they work like earplugs, do an excellent job of blocking out all noises, not just the drones that noise canceling headphones do best against. In fact, a well-fitting pair of canalphones can block out so much noise that it can be a problem! Don’t get hit by a car wearing them. But seriously, when you spend $300 on an excellent pair of canalphones, all your money goes toward the sound, not the noise reduction.

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Another advantage is the accuracy of the sound. Due to the fact that almost all of the sound produced by your canalphones’ drivers is channeled strait into your ear, the response is extremely tight. Bass is not lost, as it often is with earbuds. This also means that you can listen to music at much lower levels, allowing you to get more mileage out of your mp3 player’s battery. An added advantage of this aspect is that only you will hear your music, not the person sitting next to you on the train. Just watch out, as it is easy to do damage to your ears.

Of course, canalphones are not without their disadvantages. Unlike a pair of conventional, over-the-ear headphones, any given pair of canalphones will not be useable to anyone. If a tight seal is not achieved, the sound goes to pot. And the things don’t stay in your ears. To this end, canalphones come with a number of different eartips, in different sizes and often made of different materials. Even so, though, a person would realistically have to try out a pair of canalphones before buying them. To this end, sells canalphones with a 30 day return policy.

Other disadvantages include microphonics, or the tin can telephone syndrome. As you might guessed, this means that the slightest bump to the cord of the canalphones which are so tightly sealed into your ears translates to a great loud noise. This is annoying. To solve this, some models include loops that go over your ears first. This has the added advantage of taking the weight of the cord off the part that goes in your ear, which adds a great deal to the comfort.

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All in all, I have found canalphones to have the best sound quality of any kind of headphone. Good ones start around $100. Try some!


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