Best In-Ear Monitors (IEMs) of 2020

Personal audio has always captivated audiences for its ability to provide the best of music in any place at any time. Below is a comprehensive guide to the latest and greatest in the best IEMs of 2020 for all occasions and music types.

Note this is a dynamic and evolving list reflecting the best IEMs at present.

Balanced Armature In-Ear Monitors

1. 64 Audio U18t ($2999)

Driver Configuration: BA (18 balanced-armature drivers)

Impedance: 9 Ω

Sensitivity: 111 dB

The U18t is 64 Audio’s flagship in-ear monitor designed with reference tonality in mind. Packed with eighteen precision balanced armature drivers (including 1 tia high, 1 high-mid, 8 mid and 8 low), the U18t encompass airy, neutral, and detailed all-in-one. Micro-details, instrument separation and soundstage are world-class and further consolidate these IEMs in end-game territory. Users can further fine tune the sound with the provided m15 and m20 modules (with the latter for a smoother and more rounded presentation). Build quality and design are fantastic and provide a unique look with the deep red hues of the copper-patinated inlay. For those wishing for a reference sound, the U18t are highly recommended.

Hybrid In-Ear Monitors

1. Empire Ears Odin ($3399)

Driver Configuration: Tribrid (2 dynamic drivers, 5 BA drivers, 4 electrostatic drivers)

Impedance: 3 Ω

Sensitivity: 108 dB

With a conglomeration of proprietary technologies, the Empire Ears Odin is a culmination of the company’s best work to date. The tonality is very tastefully done with an engaging sound rooted in fantastic technicalities. The low-end is powerful and yet extremely refined, the midrange is superbly balanced and the top-end is articulate without any strain or sibilance. In addition, the Odin boasts an immersive soundstage with fantastic left to right separation. Despite the low impedance rating, the Odin plays well with a range of DAPs and does not require any ‘Linear Impedance Design’. The impressive part of the Odin is that it manages to retain vocal engagement, low-end potency and treble articulacy without inherent compromises.

2. 64 Audio Tia Fourte ($3599)

Driver Configuration: Hybrid (3 balanced armature, 1 dynamic driver)

Impedance: 10 Ω

Sensitivity: 114 dB

The 64 Audio Tia Fourte are a hybrid in-ear monitor that resolve like no other. Packed with Tia technology, they are incredibly impressive on first listen. The tonality can best be described as ‘fun’ and yet ultra-resolving with enhanced bass, detailed mids and transparent highs. Coupled to this, the Fourte emit a massive soundstage which can go head to head with full-sized headphones. Some may find a slight lack of coherence between the bass and mid/highs, however the inherent nature of hybrid designs tend to predispose to this. Paired with the right cables and right source, the Tia Fourte scales incredibly well and makes for a powerful portable high-end solution.

3. Campfire Audio Solaris ($1499)

Driver Type: Hybrid (3 balanced armatures, 1 dynamic driver)

Impedance: 10 Ω

Sensitivity: 115 dB

Combining a 24K gold faceplate and sculpted design, the Solaris exudes luxury from the Portland-based brand. Featuring a hybrid driver design, the Solaris equips an authoritative bass which extends low with great texturing. The midrange presentation is vibrant and detailed with a bias towards the upper midrange frequencies. Treble follow suit with the top-end delivering sparkle with excellent extension. However, some may find the larger than average size housings to be an issue of fit. Overall, the Solaris offers a captivating sound with an extensive bass, smooth yet lively midrange and detailed and airy highs.

Dynamic In-Ear Monitors

1. Dita Audio Fidelity ($1299)

Driver Configuration:  Dynamic (1 dynamic driver)

Impedance: 16 Ω

Sensitivity: 95 dB

Dita Audio have always captured audiences with their industrial and sleek design philosophies. They have also developed a significant following with their strive for perfection in audio reproduction. The Dita Fidelity captures the essence of the Dita house sound with a neutral signature rich with detailing, transparency and soundstage. It is impressive to see a single dynamic driver can achieve so much and highlights that implementation rather than sheer driver count can produce outstanding results. The Fidelity does not compromise on musicality with its focus on the upper midrange and lower treble but rather delivers a bodied midrange in an airy presentation. For users who prefer a neutral-warm affair, Dita Audio also offer the Fealty (the smoother and more bass-present counterpart to the Fidelity).

Electrostatic In-Ear Monitors

1. Shure KSE1200 ($1999)

Driver Configuration:  Electrostatic (1 electrostatic driver)

Impedance: N/A

Sensitivity: 113 dB

Shure took the world by storm when they released their true electrostatic earphone system. The KSE1200 offer unparalleled levels of clarity, micro-dynamics, and incision. Paired with a portable amplifier system, the KSE1200 system is highly portable and offers a very high-fidelity sound. Transparency levels are world-class while still retaining textural accuracy and musicality. Of course, there are situations such as running or exercising, where the KSE1200s would not be the most convenient. However, for those in search for a travel companion featuring extraordinary sound, the Shure KSE1200s are a hard miss.

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Wireless In-Ear Monitors

1. Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus ($299)

Driver Configuration: Dynamic (1 dynamic driver)

Impedance: N/A

Sensitivity: N/A

Master & Dynamic have hit it out the park with their versatile and feature-packed MW07 Plus wireless earphones. With a fantastic battery life, great performance and ease of convenience, they are a great entry for consumers into wireless audiophile territory. Design and comfort are top-notch and the options to select a range of colors is a nice addition. For these reasons, along with the ambient noise listening and active noise-cancelling technology, the MW07 Plus are a highly recommended purchase.

Best Value for Money

1. Fiio FD1 ($59)

Driver Configuration: Dynamic (1 dynamic driver)

Impedance: 32 Ω

Sensitivity: 109 dB

Do not be fooled by this single dynamic driver in-ear monitor. Fiio’s entry-level FD1 produces a high-end sound at an affordable price. This is made possible with the implementation of flagship-grade components such as beryllium-plated dynamic drivers and a balanced pressure relief system. With captivating and tight lows, even and crisp mids and energetic highs – the Fiio FD1 offers a highly engaging performance. Those who are very treble sensitive may wish to re-consider as there is higher energy in the upper midrange to lower treble region. Fans of a neutral-bright presentation will be pleased.

2. Rock-it Sounds R-50 ($119)

Driver Configuration: BA (2 balanced armature drivers)

Impedance: 31 Ω

Sensitivity: 110 dB

The Rock-it Sounds R-50 are an impressive offering from the rather niche audio brand. The overall presentation is airy, spacious with fantastic spatial instrument separation and decay. This is particular impressive where clarity and resolution are concerned. However, the signature evades a clinical sound and even possesses a touch of warmth. Treble, in particular, is fantastic as notes sound defined and extensive. Tonality-wise, the upper midrange to lower treble is perhaps the best in its class. Overall note presentation does lean towards the thinner side of the scale but this does not detract from the overall sound due to the air and rapid decay. For those looking for more affordable solutions with a desire for reference, speed and air – the R-50s are the way to go.

2. SoundMagic E50 ($39)

Driver Configuration: Dynamic (1 dynamic driver)

Impedance: 51 Ω

Sensitivity: 102 dB

The SoundMagic E50s perform on the top of their price performance curve with a pleasantly tuned signature. The bass extends low without need to resort to distortion or over-emphasis, midrange is neutral and faithful to track and the highs are crisp and extended. Build quality is also excellent for its price and the E50 performs competently in many genres of music. For these reasons, the E50s are a great pair of earphones without the need to break the bank.

Honorable Mentions

1. Ultimate Ears Reference Remastered ($999)

Driver Configuration: BA (3 balanced armatures)

Impedance: 35 Ω

Sensitivity: 100 dB

The Ultimate Ears Reference Remastered are a pair of custom in-ear monitors which are the result of collaboration between Capital Studios & Ultimate Ears. The overall tonality is neutral and smooth with good out of head proportions. Users who prefer true and faithful to audio recording earphones, will love the UERR for its ability to dissect music for what it is. With a linear presentation, able-bodied bass and detailed treble, they are an excellent custom-in ear choice out there.

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