To find the best earphones under Rs.500 for you, we started our research by visiting reputed technology websites and dedicated audio websites. We dug a little further into the maze of earphone available by having our researcher join “The Indian Audiophile Forum”.The Indian Audiophile Forum is home to the biggest audiophiles in India currently, who take their audio very seriously. But to really assess the earphones specifications and pick the best earphones we had Mr. Jacob Abraham, CEO of Rontek. Rontek has been in the audio manufacturing field for nearly two decades.
Best Audiophile Pick
Venture Electronics Monk Plus
Costing less than a medium-sized pizza the VE Monk Plus has no business sounding as good as it does. These earbud style earphones are a nod to the older generations of earphones. While the mid biased sound is great for vocals, a sound signature which is not found in this budget. So overall the great sound and cheap price make the Monk Plus a definitive pick.
This is a really long post! Use these links to jump around.
Why Trust Us?
We spend around three days searching for different suggestions for earphones from popular technology and audio websites. To add to that, we looked for suggestions from The Indian Audiophile Forum which really helped our shortlisting process. This is because while any earphone will be good enough for a majority of people, taking the advice of Audiophiles is always better. They look beyond the “I want bass in my earphones” crowd and can help you pick the really good and often hidden products that can sound far better than competitors priced twice their price.
With our shortlisted earphones we met up with Mr.Jacob Abraham a visit to discuss and pick the best earphone from our shortlisted ones.
How we selected?
Earphones are not your usual type of electronic gadget. It's not a mixer or a roti maker. It's more specialized and it needs a lot of understanding of audio to really judge. So because of the technicalities involved we started by looking at suggestions by top tech websites and audio websites. Our next step was to pick suggestions by some of India's biggest audiophiles on The Indian Audiophile Group. To this, we added earphones that are popular on Flipkart and Amazon.
With the shortlisted earphones, we dug around trying to find their specifications like impedance, sensitivity and frequency response. We even gathered frequency response curves from review websites like rtings, phonograph, and head-fi.
Now with so much data in hand we needed a little help to really look through the earphones and pick the best. So we sought the help of our audio expert at Rontek. Rontek’s CEO helped understand the specifications and find the best pick of the lot.
Best Pick in detail
- Amazingly clear sound for the price
- Open soundstage with relatively flat sound with forward mids
- Some people may find the earbud style uncomfortable
- No noise isolation
- Not for EDM lovers due to the lack of sub-bass
- Rs.533 version has no mic support
Our best earphone pick this time is from a brand most of you might have never heard of. The Monks are earbud style and are pretty large in size due to the large 15.4mm drivers. The drivers are actually the largest in our test with most averaging around 10mm. Because of their earbud-style design rather than in-ear earphones, they don't isolation background noise as well. They are also open at the back which is similar to some of the more premium headphones like Sennheiser’s brilliant 598 SE which we reviewed a few months back. Their shape and open back mean the soundstage is very open and gives you a distinctive sound usually not found in most earphones.
The Monks comes with a really cheap but funky packet. We really mean packet and not a box, it feels like an M&M packet. Apart from the earphones, you also get four pairs of earfoams in red and blue which is great. There are two versions of the earphone one with a mic support and one without.
The design of the earphones themselves are pretty simple, they look like the old generation earphones that used to be bundled with most phones, but the translucent body does add a bit of style.
Finally, we come to the sound, a look at the frequency curve we see the area between 100Hz till 10000 Hz is pretty balanced, with a slight boost around the 2000Hz mark. Mr.Jacob appreciated the balanced nature of the Monks sound along with the distinctive boost in the mids which he said will really bring out the vocals and guitar sounds. The same was backed by a lot of reviews online from The Phonograph, Linus Tech tips and the Indian Audiophile forum who praised the detail in the mid-range and the overall flatness of the sound. Headfonia even called it “the $4.99 miracle”, should we say any more?
If we have to sum up the sound on the VE Monk’s, we can only say that it is unlike any other earphones in its class. It is very clean and flat with a clear focus on the mids. There is sufficient bass without it getting muddy. The design of the earphone being open back makes them struggle with the sub-bass, but the mid and high bass is very good. Pinning the earphones tightly into your ears will definitely improve the sub-bass but that's not really practical always.
Do note these earphones have an impedance rating of 64 Ohms but they work fine with smartphones (Smartphones can work well with most 32 Ohm earphones/ headphones). However, using a dedicated AMP or a Digital Audio Player will definitely enhance your listening experience.
So with a price of around Rs.533, the Monks are a lightweight pair of earbuds with a balanced sound, great vocals. They are great earphone for not just regular listeners but for audiophiles as well.
After Sales Service
The VE Monks come with 1-year warranty which is same as most products in its category. For any warranty claims, you need to mail the product to the seller (Hifinage) if the product can't be repaired the product will be replaced once you pay the shipping charges.
BoAt also has a similar 1 year warranty like VE where you can mail them the product or walk into their Mumbai service center as well, where they can repair or replace the product if it cant be repaired.
Sennheisers have fours service centers across India in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Gurgaon and Kolkata. They also have a 2 year warranty replacement on their products. Sennheiser has some of the best ratings for their service where people have claimed to have got a replacement product in under 2 minutes of them having visited the service center.
Xiaomi's offer a meager 6 month of service on their earphones. But they have a much larger service network and they even offer a replacement if they can't repair the product.
Who is our best pick for?
The VE Monk’s are great for people who listen to music that is flat without any excess boost to the bass or treble. The Monks are also great for songs with a lot of vocals as well as rock music that has a lot of guitar and vocals. EDM lovers, however, may not prefer this earphone and EDM songs are biased more towards bass and trebles and hence require a V-shaped frequency curve.
Everytime you read an article featuring an audio product there will be many words through at you like frequency curve, sound signature, warm sound, V-shaped. If you feel really confused with what they even mean, then don’t worry we are here to help with our “Understanding Audio” section.
Unlike most products like home appliances and other gadgets, audio products are more difficult to judge because each person has a different taste when it comes to music and sound. Some prefer the sound that is true to the composer's vision, while some prefer addition to that sound in terms of more bass or more treble. The way that an audio product’s sound reproduction is tuned is called as the sound signature. The following are the common types of sound signatures.
- Flat sound (No boost in any frequency) found most commonly in studio monitoring headphones from Audio-Technica and Beyerdynamic.
- Bass boosted (Low end is boosted) sound is common in most Sony and Beats audio products
- Bright sound (the High end is boosted) is found in headphones from Grado and Beyerdynamic
- V-shaped sound (Low end and high end are boosted) is common on V-Moda headphones making them great for EDM, Hip-Hop type of sounds.
When you look at the spec sheet of any headphone, earphone or speaker you will see the three main specifications Frequency Response, impedance and sensitivity.
Above we spoke about sound signatures, now sound signature and frequency responses are almost the same thing. Frequency response is the graphical representation of the ability of the audio device to produce different frequencies. A frequency response graph has the loudness in Y-axis and frequency on X-axis. While the sound signature is determined based on the nature of the frequency curve, it can be bright or flat or bass boosted. Most audio products work within the 20-20000Hz frequency range, which is also the range of human hearing.
Hi-Res audio products are certified to produce frequency responses up to 45000Hz and more (We even reviewed a Sony MDR-1A that has a frequency range from as low as 3Hz all the way up to to a breathtaking 100000Hz). Now many may argue how are Hi-Res audio products even worth it when we can't even hear those high frequencies. While you can't hear you can definitely feel the instruments and sound. Also, most of the Digital audio players, headphones, earphones and speakers now have Hi-Res certifications so whether we like it or not Hi-Res is becoming a norm. Do note a Hi-Res certification is not an assurance of great sound, a normal frequency range headphone/ earphone can sound way better than a Hi-Res certified one.
Impedance is another term associated with audio products. It is the electric resistance of your earphone/ headphone to your source audio. Mobile devices can handles headphones with impedances around 32 Ohms, while a more moderns smartphones like Mi A1 and the lot can power devices above 100 Ohms. It is important to know that the source (device playing the song) can take the headphone/ earphone. Using a high impedance headphone on a device that doesn't support it will usually give lower volume and reduce audio quality. Impedance by itself, however, has nothing to do with audio quality but is wrongly assumed to be because most of the high-end headphones usually have higher impedances. But more modern high headphones have impedances as low as 16-24 Ohms and still provide great audio quality.
Sensitivity is the last of the important specifications and is a measure of loudness of an audio device. A sensitivity of 100 Db/mW is considered decently loud. Again sensitivity is a measure of loudness and not audio quality.
Reading a frequency curve
Let us look at some of the specific regions of the frequency graph.
- 20Hz to 60 Hz is the sub-bass region
- 60 Hz to 200Hz is the bass or upper bass
- 200 Hz to 2000 Hz is your mid region
- 2000 Hz + is your treble or highs
The range can further be divided into lower mids, brilliance etc. but let us stick to the four important regions for now.
Generally, a good frequency response curve is one that has a relatively flat curve (near to the 0 Db) from 20Hz all the way up to 20000 Hz, this makes an earphone sound flat. But earphones need not stick to the flat curve always, a good earphone can have a slight drop in the sub-bass region (as this region is harder to reproduce), have an almost flat bass to mid region and then have a drop in the treble region.
Using our VE Monk's frequency curve we see the following:
- The Sub-Bass region is rolled off, this is an issue not with this particular earphone but the whole design of earbuds which caused by lack of a proper ear seal. This makes it a big no-no for EDM or Hip-Hop songs.
- The Bass region is almost flat which is good and the bass will sound natural
- We see a peak in the Mid region which gives this particular earphones its famed sound signature which is biased for vocals (also includes the sound of guitars)
- The Treble region we see is rolled off (takes a dip) which is considered to be a good trait in most earphones/ headphones. This is because boosted highs can make the sound very sharp and is not preferred by most people.
At the end of the day, the frequency response is just a measure of how loud the earphone/ headphone can product each frequency. A headphone with an incredible flat sound may not be to the liking of most people who love oodles of sub-bass in their sound, so we suggest you use frequency curves to gauge if that particular headphone is suitable for your listening style.
Measuring the Frequency Curve for a earphones i sfar more difficult that Headphones and speakers. This is because your ear canal itself aids to sound production and with different people having different ear canals the results may vary from person to person.
Earphones that didn't get selected
Boat BassHeads 225
This is an incredibly popular pair of earphones online that are loved by a lot of Indian Tech websites. However, we couldn't find any detailed review that talked about its frequency response and specific sounds regions like sub-bass, bass, mids, and treble. A lot of users reviews, however, suggested they have very good bass but lack the sub-bass. While they will not match our best picks sound quality they are a decent pair of earphones for most types of listeners.
Mi Earphones Basic
Costing only Rs.399 these are one of the cheapest good sounding earphones in its class. We have come to always expect great products from Xiaomi and these also are known for their great audio clarity and balanced bass. If your budget is below Rs.500 and you prefer in-ear style earphones you can definitely pick these up.
They are the most expensive pair of earphones in our test. They have a decent sound with sufficient bass and good clarity. We however wouldn't recommend these as they are simply too expensive and you can pick a better pair from our under Rs.1000 picks.
If you have a budget of around Rs.500 and need a great sounding earphone then do try the VE Monk Plus which has a balanced sound with a great focus on the midrange.