All of the best sounding in-ear headphones I've tested over the years have been custom-molded to my ears models. Prices vary, but the $399 UE-4 was the least expensive, and most of the top-of-the-line models are headphones. Customs ensure a perfect fit, and the best isolation from external noise. Plus they can't fall out of your ears,. Those prices don't include the fee the audiologist charges to make molds of your ear canals, and the fees add $100 to the price of the
The FitEar ToGo 334 in-ear headphone is made in Japan in very limited quantities and sells for $1,349 in the U.S., but it's not custom and fits anyone's ears, so you save on molding fees. The headphone's four balanced armature drivers (one bass, two midrange, one treble) are custom-made for FitEar. Most universal fit in-ear headphones push all the sound through just one port (hole), the 334 has a specially tuned system with separate ports for each frequency range. Each 334 earpiece is made by hand. The company tried to automate the process, but FitEar couldn't find a way to make the same design as small as the hand-built version. It's a labor-intensive process; each earpiece takes many hours to build.
The 334's sound is the best I've heard from an in-ear headphone of any type; the clarity and detail are extraordinary. Compared with a perfectly good $300 in-ear, like the Monster Turbine Copper, the 334 is dramatically more alive and realistic sounding. The music's dynamic contrasts are more vivid. When switching back to the Copper, the sound is blah, but I never felt the 334 sounded hyped or overly bright. Fit is good, and isolation from external noise was average for a universal fit headphone.
I next compared the 334 with mycustom-molded to my ears headphone, and that was a much closer contest, but the 334's clarity and brilliance shone through. The 334's stereo imaging was also more expansive than the JH 13's. The JH 13 is no slouch, and it has a warmer, richer tonal balance. The detailing is quite good, but the 334 is better. Up to this point I was listening to both headphones with my iPod Classic, so it made sense to step up to a dedicated high-end portable headphone rig, like the with Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo digital to analog converter. Those two components took the sound to another level, so I decided to compare the 334/ALO combination with the $1,748 in-ear headphone/amplifier package.
The JH 3A is an awesome sounding integrated system. The full throttle dynamics, solid bass, low-level (quiet) resolution of fine detail, and overall realism of the sound is astonishing, but the 334/ALO combination is better. Drums' impact and power trump the JH 3A's, the texture of the beats is palpable and the cymbals' shimmer sounds remarkably clear. Orchestral music's scale and majesty were bigger and more spacious. Amon Tobin's electronica shadings and nuances were revealed like on no other in-ear headphone. Well-recorded piano albums were again, more realistic sounding than I've heard before.
True, the 334 and ALO gear are outrageously expensive, but the best stuff always is. To get this level of sound quality from speakers would cost ten or more times as much. FitEar is just now starting to sell its headphones in the U.S. through ALO; I can't wait to see what they come up with next.