If you decide to spend the big bucks on a set of high-end canalphones, I enthusiastically recommend going all-in and getting custom eartips—tips custom-made for your particular ears. The process requires an audiologist visit to get impressions taken of your ears, but the benefits include substantially better comfort. (On some models, you may gain better noise isolation and better sound quality, as well.) Many canalphone vendors offer custom eartips for around $150 plus audiologist fees; Etymotic Research currently offers them for $100 (including fees) as part of the company's Custom-Fit program. A step above custom eartips are in-ear monitors, which place the actual headphone circuitry in larger, custom-made earpieces.
- Etymotic Research mc3 Headset + Earphones (Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ; inline remote/mic; $99)
- Shure SE210m+ (inline remote/mic; $170)
- Etymotic Research hf3 (inline remote/mic; $179)
- Future Sonics Atrio ($199)
- Westone UM2 True-Fit Dual-Driver Earphones (Macworld rated 5 out of 5 mice ; $300)
- Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10vi (inline remote/mic; $420)
Canalbuds, which occupy a middle ground between earbuds and in-ear-canal models, have become quite popular over the past decade. Compared to canalphones, canalbuds generally use smaller eartips that sit just inside the ends of your ear canals instead of deep inside them. Good canalbuds easily best earbuds in terms of audio performance and noise isolation, but fall short of good canalphones in those areas. On the other hand, canalbuds tend to be more comfortable than true canalphones because they don't sit so deep and don't fit so tightly; they're also usually less expensive. (See our in-ear-canal-headphone primer, linked above, for more information.)