Too many people nowadays settle for mediocre audio quality because they don’t know what to look for when picking out a pair of earphones.
My mission in this article is to shed light on the best in-ear monitors, or more specifically, the best IEMs under $200. I’ll discuss why those working in the music industry will always prefer this type of earphones over anything else.
7 Best IEMs Under $200 for Tight Budgets
The following earphones are reasonably priced and versatile, in addition to the impressive sound quality. Even if they don’t look too fancy, they are all easy to use and comfortable to wear.
1. Shure SE215
The Shure SE215 earphones are capable of delivering impressive sound quality and low-end definition. Its sound isolation properties can prevent up to 37dB of background noise from entering the mix.
I like that these IEMs feature an optimized nozzle angle that promotes a better fit and overall comfort at a very low profile. The cable has been reinforced so that it can handle casual listening and the strain of professional use.
Another interesting addition to the package is the number of accessories. You’ll find spares in sizes S, M, and L, as well as a carry case that can serve as tangle-free storage. Shure also opted for a lock-snap mechanism for the MMCX gold-plated connector.
This allows for 360-degree rotation, more freedom of movement for you and a more comfortable experience when the earphones are in use. Here are some of the more notable technical specifications for the Shure SE215: 107dB max sound pressure level (SPL), 17ohm impedance, and 22Hz to 17.5kHz frequency response.
You might also appreciate the flexibility that these IEMs offer in the form of different color variants, such as: clear, black, blue, and white.
The molded Sennheiser IE 0 Pro IEMs have a flat profile. This choice is not unique but flawlessly executed in the case of the Sennheiser. This means that the level of comfort is superior to most competitor models around this price range.
I also like that the cable is detachable, but the stock cable is already rugged enough for live gigs. The internal cable duct improves the durability and helps maintain faithful signal transfer and sound quality.
The soundstage is deep and wide and the drivers to a great job of delivering detailed and dissonance-free audio even at higher volume levels. Another big plus in my book is the 20Hz to 18,000kHz frequency response range. These IEMs are not overly bass heavy, which means that they can be worn by any musician on stage.
However, these may not be as ideal for studio use. They can still help you do a good job, but it’s like something’s missing. There are better options out there. On the flipside, the maximum sound pressure level (SPL) of 115dB further increases the value of the IE 40 Pro IEMs.
The rated sound isolation is 26dB. Guess what? That’s like the average for noise protectors that people use at gun ranges, not too bad at all. That’s not to say that there aren’t IEMs that do a better job in this regard, but to do significantly better, you’re looking at a set of expensive IEMs with built-in active noise cancellation.
Although Audio Technica offers a wide range of IEMs, it’s the mid-priced ATH-E40 that I’d like to focus on here. This model features proprietary push-pull drivers that offer superior accuracy and clarity.
To improve the level of comfort even further, these IEMs come with flexible-memory cable loops that you loop over your ears. This is ideal for keeping the earphones on and for recording or rehearsal sessions.
Although the ATH-E40 is the cheapest model in the series, it still comes with accessories such as a carry case, a plug-on adapter, and spare silicone eartips. You may also like that they feature a detachable cable. While this allows further customization and personalization, the factory cable is already as rugged and reliable as they come.
With the wide frequency response range and average 107dB max SPL, the ATH-E40 IEMs are going to be more at home with monitoring and mixing in the studio than stage monitoring.
With the use of four dynamic drivers and three different armatures, these 1More IEMs are unique and offer near unrivaled sound quality. These earphones are compatible with all devices and feature an ergonomic design, which makes comfortable to wear and improves noise isolation (courtesy of the fit).
The IEMs also feature in-line control. I like this because it makes skipping songs, adjusting call clarity, and changing the volume a lot easier. When it comes to the soundstage, you might be surprised by the realism of the audio coming out of the tiny speakers.
It’s well-balanced and can cater to bassheads as well as professional studio engineers. But, in the end, it’s the audiophiles who are sure to enjoy these IEMs more so than casual listeners who are perhaps less discerning for lack of exposure to high-fidelity audio, which might change after they start using these IEMs.
Among the included accessories are a gorgeous leather travel case, airline adaptors, a shirt clip, and nine tip sizes for you to mix and match until you find your perfect fit.
5. MEE MX4 Pro
The MEE MX4 Pro doesn’t just have an impressive soundstage but is also highly customizable. These IEMs come with custom-fitted eartips and custom engravings on the faceplates. Like custom earplugs, custom eartips are the holy grail, usually only available at stratospheric prices, but now, thanks to 3D printing, they are available with the MX4 Pro at a reasonable price.
They’re close in price to the price limit set for the purpose of this article, but the custom eartips alone make them a steal at this price! You might also appreciate the sweat-resistant construction. This and the detachable cable make for a very versatile pair of IEMs.
Due to the ability to custom-fit your eartips, the potential for noise isolation is unparalleled in this price range. The soundstage is also nothing short of impressive thanks to the multi-driver configuration – the MX4 Pro IEMs are fitted with moving coil subwoofers.
The improved bass response adds depth and makes everything more realistic without intruding on the mid and high frequencies. These highly versatile IEMs are suitable for all purposes, including stage and studio monitoring.
MEE Audio offers one of the most complete pairs of IEMs in terms of what’s included in the retail packaging. Among the components and accessories, you’ll find a high-end silver-plated cable, a carry case, three sets of memory foam eartips, and six sets of silicone eartips.
No matter your size, preference, and where you plan on using them, the Pinnacle P1 earphones are guaranteed to offer a tight, comfortable fit. Although mostly designed for casual listeners, I find the Pinnacle P1 IEMs to be perfectly suitable for use by musicians during live performances.
The balanced frequency response can come in handy in many situations. On top of that, the detachable cable will allow you to upgrade the cable to something better or longer or both. The design is also interesting. You’ll notice the familiar in-ear configuration, but with a nice twist that allows you to wear the IEMs in two ways.
Even though these IEMs feature 10mm dynamic drivers, the sound is slightly warmer and not at all bass heavy. This means that you’ll be able to use these monitors to record and mix tracks in various genres of music.
The noise isolation is not the best, but the richness of the sound and the amount of detail certainly compensate for that.
I always try my level best to find the most affordable high-end audio equipment. If nothing, it’s because everyone deserves to enjoy high-fidelity sound. With that in mind, I’d like to shine a light on an overlooked pair of IEMs, the MEE Audio M6 Pro 2nd Generation.
These IEMs have a universal fit and a refined soundstage of impressive richness. The sound is very detailed and tight overall, all of which are the characteristics of good hi-fi systems.
The over-the-ear cables ensure a good amount of comfort, especially since the ear hooks are flexible and feature memory wire. The eartips are comfortable too, though a bit more rigid than the ones that come with much more expensive IEMs.
Despite the price range for this brand, these IEMs come with a carry case, memory foam eartips, silicone eartips, and two sets of cables (regular and another one with in-line controls). The latter will probably be the premier choice for casual listening and traveling.
IEMs vs. Regular Earphones
Are IEMs or in-ear monitors just another term for traditional earphones? In terms of design, they can be identical in some cases, but IEMs house more technology and are capable of delivering high-fidelity audio in a variety of environments.
With IEMs, it’s all about accurate sound reproduction and noise isolation. As such, there are IEMs that are designed for studio use, live outdoor stages, general use, and more.
But that’s all semantics, really. If you ask 10 experts, half of them might tell you that IEMs are just earphones. That’s because earphones are worn inside your ears and headphones are worn over your ears. If you’re to go with this definition, then IEMs are earphones but earphones are not necessarily IEMs.
It’s like smartphones are cell phones but not all cellphones are smartphones. Makes sense?
What You Need to Know About the Drivers
Most IEMs are equipped with dynamic drivers. Most of them use all-frequency drivers but the higher end ones might use separate drivers. In the latter case, these drivers are miniature versions of tweeters and woofers in regular speakers or studio monitors.
Dynamic drivers are capable of offering lots of bass. However, what you get will depend on the manufacturer and model.
The other prevalent type of driver is the balanced armature driver. These are much smaller so easier to use multiple of them in a set of IEMs. What’s interesting about balanced armatures is that they use vibrations to create sound. The only minor downside is that the end result won’t be as punchy compared to dynamic drivers.
The Final Word
As you can probably tell by now, if you're looking for a pair of quality IEMs, there are great options under 200 bucks. Even though this budget not seem too much to audiophiles, it is actually good enough to get your hands on an excellent pair of in-ear monitors that offer superior sound quality.