[Tested] Best Earphone Under Rs 2500 in 2021 – an Audiophile’s Perspective
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[Tested] Best Earphone Under Rs 2500 in 2021 – an Audiophile’s Perspective

07/04/2022  |   119 Views

It goes without saying that wireless audio products – especially truly wireless earbuds – are the de facto choice for most mainstream audiences today. But with the convenience that you get with wireless, you should anticipate two problems:

And, with lossless and hi-res music suddenly getting a much needed shot in the arm again, thanks to Apple Music’s introduction of the lossless tier, I am fairly certain that wired audio products are going to see a boost in sales in the near future. Which is why, it made all the more sense for me to spend my time doing the research and testing for this video.

Also read: Best Earphones Under Rs 1000 – Budget Wired Earphones But Premium Sound

The cool folks over at HeadphoneZone were kind enough to send us a gorgeously packed and carefully-curated box of what are possibly some of the best earphones currently available under Rs 2500. So, without any further ado, let’s find out how they fare in this massive shootout.

Testing Process

Before I start laying out the products in front of you, let me break down the testing process. I used a wide range of sources with a 3.5mm audio port or a basic dongle for listening. These products included a bunch of Android phones, an iPhone 12, a MacBook Pro and a Surface Laptop 4. Apart from this, I also used the Shanling UA1 and iBasso DC02 portable DACs to see if these earphones can scale in performance.

Furthermore, I tested the mics by recording samples on the Surface Laptop 4. Here is the link to all the samples for you to listen.

Now, I am moving on to the list, and these are ranked in order of preference from the bottom to top. I will share my grade for every single earphone in this list and show you how I arrived at the final grade at the end of the video.

Sony MDR XB55AP

The Sony MDR XB55AP has one purpose and one purpose only – to suffocate you with the amount of bass on offer. But, the letters X and B in its name actually stand for Xtra Bass, so I suppose that was to be expected. Although, the bass is wooly and not very punchy. It bleeds into the other frequencies and tends to overpower the mix. The other problem with the sound signature is the terrible upper mid-range spike that is bound to give you a headache. This shouty tuning is not very pleasing in my opinion, even if you are a basshead. I’d suggest you keep reading for my pick of the best earphones for bassheads.

Additionally, there is no soundstage to speak of, as all the sound is stuck in your head. Also, the imaging or the instrument separation is average, and so is the tonality. The treble response is pretty weak too with no extension.

The other problem with the MDR XB55AP is its sheer size. Owing to the large 12mm neodymium drivers coupled with the bass ducts in each housing, the earbuds extend too far out of your ears. But, thankfully, they are pretty light. And, you also get a single button remote for calls and playback control. Another advantage is the mic performance. It sounds clean and crisp for your video calls and voice calls. As per my grading system, the MDR XB55AP’s mic quality takes the top spot, which it shares with another earphone in the list.

These earphones get a C+ from me. Buy it only if you want a pair of earphones with a good mic for your WFH calls or if you have a torture fetish to go deaf soon.

Rating: C+

Price: Rs 1,990

Jays a-One

Second from the bottom of my list is the Jays a-One. Jays is a Swedish audio brand that actually makes pretty good audio products. But the a-One doesn’t offer the same quality I have come to expect from Jays. Especially the boxed-in dark sound that offers absolutely no semblance of a soundstage. Thankfully, the instrument separation is better than the Sony’s but there are others that are even better. Again, the signature is a warm sound that favours the bass, and it is slightly more refined than the Sony MDR XB55AP. Although, the a-One’s low end response is still not a very tight one and has a lot of decay. And, the timing is completely off too.

Additionally, the tonality is nothing worth talking about. The mids are fine and the treble doesn’t offer too much extension and is definitely not refined. What this means is that you lose out on a lot of detail and transparency, and the overall sound is muddy. Not as muddy as the MDR XB55AP, but that doesn’t really count as praise because the other products in this list are just way better. To add salt to the wound, the mic quality is the worst of the lot. It sounds really bad.

[Tested] Best Earphone Under Rs 2500 in 2021 – an Audiophile’s Perspective

There are a couple of redeeming points, though. The flat cables and the three-button in-line remote. While it is made entirely of plastic, it doesn’t feel cheap. And, it fits nicely and feels comfortable for long listening sessions. Overall, this gets a C+ too.

Rating: C+

Price: Rs 1,999

Beyerdynamic Beat Byrd

The most inexpensive IEM in this list, starting at just Rs 1,199, is the German audio brand Beyerdynamic’s Beat Byrd. It also happens to be the most comfortable pair of earphones in this list with its flat profile that doesn’t protrude out of your ears. Plus, the orange coloured cable is a nice funky colour. What’s conspicuously absent is a mic, which is a huge letdown.

Anyway, the sound signature is clearly V-shaped with recessed mids. Beyerdynamic says this offers punchy bass, but I do not think that is true. But compared to the previous earphones, the Beat Byrd offers slightly better details and sounds more refined. However, the soundstaging is weak and so is the tonality. The sound here misses the X-factor.

Overall, this is yet another C+ product and the final one. Buy it, if you are strapped for cash and want something comfortable. But, since most people today need a mic, I find the Beat Byrd to be a tough sell. Because, if it doesn’t have a mic, it should at least offer great sound, which it doesn’t.

Rating: C+

Price: Rs 1,199

KZ ZST X

Finally coming to the Knowledge Zenith Accoustics or KZ products. We are entering the territory of good sound now. The rest of the list is dominated by Chi-Fi or Chinese Hi Fidelity products. It is a huge deal in the audiophile community for the kind of value that you get with these products. Starting with the KZ ZST X, which comes with dual drivers inside each housing. You get a Balanced Armature driver for pristine highs and dynamic drivers for the bass.

They are available in really funky colours Purple and Cyan, and have transparent housings. I know that Nothing is making a big deal about their truly wireless earbuds with transparent housings, but in the world of audiophilia it is pretty commonplace. As for the rest of the design, you get a detachable wire with a 0.75mm 2-pin connector. Which means that you can replace the wire if it breaks. And, these in-ears have an ear loop connector for a secure fit, which might be uncomfortable for some folks not used to such a style.

I’d categorise the sound signature to be slightly V-shaped but extremely bright. Which means, the treble sounds nice and extended. However, there are treble peaks especially in the upper range, which could sound shrill and annoying to many folks. Although, this does bring out a lot of details in songs that were missing before. Plus, the soundstaging is extremely wide for a pair of IEMs. It is the kind of sound that is enjoyable for folks who like detail. That said, they do sound harsh and not as refined as some of the other better IEMs that I am yet to talk about. And, while the bass is present, it is not very punchy. Mids are pretty average too.

As for the mic performance, the KZ ZST X definitely sounds good enough but could do with some more clarity. Overall, this is a good option for those looking for a wide soundstage and a treble-heavy sound signature. It gets a B grade from me.

Rating: B

Price: Rs 1,599 (with mic)

KZ ZSN Pro X

The KZ ZSN Pro X is very similar to the KZ ZST X in terms of design, only that it uses a metal face plate with the resin enclosure. The mic quality, fit, and comfort is equal on both the IEMs. The ZSN Pro X distinguishes itself with its sound signature. It has a V-shaped sound with a more powerful and punchier bass. No, this is still not the best bass earphones in this list, but it is a very enjoyable sound. The soundstage is not as wide as the KZ ZST X, but it sounds more refined and clean. It doesn’t sound as harsh as the ZST X and that is a great thing. Over the years of testing many KZ earphones, the company has definitely cleaned up its tuning by a huge margin.

I feel that this is the KZ that you should buy in this price range and most folks are going to enjoy the fun sound signature. I know I did. The KZ ZSN Pro X gets a final grade of B+.

Rating: B+

Price: Rs 1,899

Soundmagic E11C

Now, we are in the top three territory and my third favourite IEM from this list is the Soundmagic E11C. Soundmagic is one of the original Chi-Fi brands that cut through the clutter of high-priced, low value branded budget audio gear. The E11C is one of the oldest IEMs in this list and the most expensive. But, it is still very potent and worth every penny you pay for it. That’s another thing about wired audio products, if you can take care of them properly, they can last decades.

Yes, the design is very straightforward and old school, but the tiny housings are made entirely of metal and are super comfortable too. Sometimes I didn’t even realise that I was wearing them. Similar to the Jays a-One, you get a 3-button in-line remote. But, unlike the Jays a-One, the mic quality is pretty decent. Not the best, but you can use it for Zoom calls.

So, coming to the sound signature, this is the best bass performance IEM that I was talking about. The sound signature, unlike most earphones in this list, is more balanced. But, the punchy bass is extremely tight. Especially, when you listen to basslines in rock songs, you are bound to appreciate the tuning and the timing of the attack. But, the good thing is the bass doesn’t overpower any frequency and lets the mids and the trebles breathe, and do their thing. What’s also good is the soundstaging and the imaging. Overall, it is a nice and detailed sound that definitely doesn’t disappoint. The E11C gets a B+ too.

Rating: B+

Price: Rs 2,499

Moondrop Spaceship

I am genuinely excited to show you guys the Moondrop Spaceship. This Chinese brand is highly revered in the audiophile community and the Spaceship is their most affordable IEM. The spaceship has a micro driver design with tiny 6mm dynamic drivers in each housing. It has an impedance of 16 ohms (plus/minus 15%). And, this is where I want to tell you how specs don’t tell even half the story. These earphones offer a fantastic sound and are difficult to drive despite the low impedance.

What does that mean? Ideally, most budget earphones can run fine on smartphone and laptop DACs. But, the Moondrop Spaceship actually demands more. Which is why it sounds louder on the UA1 compared to a phone. Anyway, the design is a weird one. It is a bullet-style design that might not be comfortable for everyone. Finding the right ear tip is vital here.

However, if you can indeed nail the fit, they are super comfortable for long listening sessions. Plus, it is made of metal so it is supremely sturdy too. There is a single button in-line remote and a mic in it. The mic is absolutely fantastic and the best among the IEMs in this list. It shares the top spot with the MDR XB55AP. I actually used them for a session with IDC where I was moderating the panel. It is great even for business needs.

But, the real reason why we are here is the rich, detailed, transparent, and clean sound signature. The balanced sound absolutely nails the high frequency performance. The treble has a very restrained yet refined quality to it that brings out the details in many songs that I hadn’t even heard before. But, the beauty of the sound signature is that there is enough punch in the low end too. Moondrop doesn’t skimp on the bass performance or even the mids for that matter. The imaging is clearly the Spaceship’s strong suite, especially for its price. If I had one qualm, it is that it doesn’t match the timing and attack in the low end, compared to the final earphone in my list.

Anyway, the price-to-performance ratio of the Moondrop Spaceship is off the whack. For Rs 1,699, I really cannot find a better VFM product that punches way above its weight.

Fun fact: In my grading scale, the Spaceship actually shares the top spot with the next IEM in the list. But do remember, you’d absolutely need a DAC to derive the best performance from these tiny rockstars.

Rating: A

Price: Rs 1,699

BLON BL-03

And, here we are, the final, (other) numero uno product in the list – the BLON BL-03. This is your quintessential all rounder product. The one reason why it is better than the Moondrop Spaceship is that it is much easier to drive. Meaning, you don’t necessarily need a separate DAC for it. And, it trumps the spaceship and every other IEM here when it comes to the tonality. Instruments sound like they should and coupled with the excellent imaging, you are treated to a very detailed sound. And, it goes without saying that the soundstaging is fantastic. Maybe not as good as the KZ ZST X or the Moondrop Spaceship, but very good nonetheless.

The kind of body you get in the bass and the mids, is sublime. And, it does offer a good treble extension too. The overall presentation is just very good. The only reason why the Spaceship is better is because it has a more transparent sound that sounds much cleaner. Otherwise, you are definitely going to be BLON away by the BLON’s sound. See what I did there?

Anyway, the mic is good too. It does some sort of environment noise cancellation, which can make you sound robotic but it does help in cutting out a lot of the ambient noise. Also, the BL-03’s are built like a tank with its all metal earbud design. I really like the way it fits too. The braided cable does tangle very easily, though. But, like the KZs the cable can be replaced but finding a replacement cable is apparently not easy.

Anyway, overall, I am super impressed by the Blon BL-03 and it definitely shares the top spot with the Spaceship with its A-grade rating.

Rating: A

Price: Rs 2,299

Conclusion

Here’s myfinal grading chart for you to see. It is evident from this comparison that Chi-Fi audio products offer far better value compared to bigger, well-known brands like Sony and Beyerdynamic. The kind of sound signature, overall build quality, and mic performance that you get out of brands like Blon, Moondrop, Knowledge Zenith, and Soundmagic is unparalleled. I am definitely picking up a Moondrop Spaceship and a BLON BL-03 for my collection. What about you?

I hope you found this shootout useful. If you did, don’t forget to share it with your friends and family.

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