Good wired earphones for not a lot of cash (Week 43, 2023)

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Week 42, 2022

Q. I read your recent columns about the discontinuation of the iPod with great interest, as I have quite an old model. It is a late-2000s model Nano that I once used in my car and now carry around with me. It is pretty much full and I am not worried about adding music to it at this point. I am quite fond of it and disappointed that Apple does not make anything like it now.

I am looking for some good wired earphones since it does not have Bluetooth. I used the Focal Sphear earphones you wrote about years ago and was very happy with them, but they are cutting out on one side now and it is time to move on. They were kind of pricey and I don’t want to spend a lot since I do not know how long my iPod Nano will last. What do you recommend for $75 or less?

-K.L., Raleigh, NC

A. I can make two suggestions that are a lot less than $75. If you would like to get close to your Sphear earphones but for one-sixth of the price I suggest you check out the new-to-the-USA Earjoy earphones from Japan. At $29.95 they represent an excellent value proposition for those looking for very good wired earphones for very little money.

The manufacturer touts the Japanese heritage quite a bit, notably proud of the country’s long tradition of fine audio equipment design and precision craftsmanship. High quality Japanese-made gear tends to be expensive no matter the product category, and the vast majority of affordable earphones are made in China no matter the brand. I don’t know how much of the Japanese heritage plays a part in the performance, but the earphones sound very good even taking the price out of consideration. Without the need to incorporate batteries or wireless components every cent spent in making them goes into providing superior sound. The sound has excellent richness and is almost perfectly balanced (make sure you get a good seal in your ear) with the only flaw being slightly bright sound with some program material. I mentioned Rush’s “Xanadu” from the album “Exit… Stage Left” when I wrote about bone conduction headphones. The Earjoy earphones brought the music close and reproduced the concert in my head. Quite satisfying.

They are beautifully made as well, with a jewel-like finish that is every bit as good as the $169 Sphear. They make excellent backup earphones for when wireless earphones run out of power, for use with airplane entertainment systems with wired connections, for the gym or for listening in bed while your wireless earphones charge. At under $30 they are a good way to treat yourself (or someone special) to something nice in these economically-trying times, too!

Earjoy earphones are available from LP Gear, retailer of the famous Vessel phono cartridges.

At the extreme low end of the pricing scale is the TCL SOCL 100, which sell for the princely sum of $9.99. When I reviewed them in 2019 I said they represented “the best $10 you will ever spend.” They are surprisingly good and musically satisfying. The design and construction is modest and the bright colors of the SOCL 100 may not be for everyone, but they do sound good and are a great value.

If your phone or tablet does not have an headphone jack then you will need a Lightning or USB-C adapter to use wired earphones. Your phone or tablet probably came with one, and you can pick one up on Amazon for $10 or less.