Sub $100 Earphone Shootout

Let’s be real, not everyone who’s looking for new earphones is ready to drop $3000 on a top of the line model, or even $300 for some of the more popular audiophile favorites. While it’s easy to get caught up in the mind-blowing experience of listening to high-res tracks on a Noble Sultan through an SP2000, there’s still an incredible amount of enjoyment to be found listening to Spotify on a 5 year old smartphone with the Meze 12 Classics. So let’s take a look at three of the options we have at Bloom for under $100.

Final E3000 - $54

Final E3000

First up is the Final E3000 at $54. The Final E3000 has a simple, elegant design, with a cylindrical shape and a mirrored stainless steel finish. The cable is non-removable, and feels a little thin, but it’s proven to be pretty durable. The package includes a small bag for holding the earphones and a selection of Final tips. That’s one thing you have to love about Final: whether you get the E3000 or the A8000, you basically get the same tip selection.

My first impression of the sound was that it has a very “consumer earbud” type bass heavy tuning, but there’s also a touch of detail and refinement in there. There’s a surprising sense of separation in the drums in particular. While some of the midrange can be a little congested, the lows and highs have good definition and cohesion.

Meze 12 Classics V2 - $69

Meze 12 Classics V2

Meze’s 12 Classics V2 seems in many ways like the distillation of the 99 Classics spirit into a smaller, cheaper form factor. The tuning is bass heavy, but more v-shaped than fully bass dominant. These aren’t the most dynamic or responsive earphones you’ve ever heard, but unlike many other options under $100, there’s a genuine sense of a soundstage, and imaging that extends beyonds simply “left” and “right” stereo panning. The package contains a selection of eartips and a convenient zip-up travel case.

Final VR3000 - $79.99

Final VR3000

The VR3000 has a well balanced sound with a surprisingly big soundstage and accurate imaging. Designed for gaming, these aren’t the most musical sounding IEMs. While the tuning is mostly neutral, the timbre seems a little unnatural, and there’s a definite sense of veiled highs, but the technical strengths make them stand out. The imaging and separation are on par with IEMs that cost five times as much. Overall, these are really strong performers that have a strong appeal for audiophiles looking for inexpensive earphones that value technical prowess over a “fun” tuning. The VR3000 is also the only one in this group to feature a built in mic or have a removable cable.

Comparison

The Meze 12 Classics V2 and Final E3000 have some definite similarities in terms of tuning and technical capabilities. Both provide mainstream consumer type tunings, but with well-controlled bass and a level of detail you’re not going to find under $100 at Best Buy or Walmart. In terms of fit, I found that the E3000 was slightly more secure – probably thanks in large part to the Final eartips being superior to the eartips Meze packs in. The 12 Classics V2, though, come with a nicer overall package, and, with their wood rimmed shells, have a higher level of perceived quality.

Final E3000 Meze 12 Classics V2 Final VR3000

The VR3000 is the odd man out. Where the other two – featuring wood grain and stainless shells respectively – have a more upscale look, the VR3000 is all plastic, and almost looks like a toy version of one of Final’s more upscale IEMs. The VR3000 also has the sort of neutral, reference-like tuning that is quite rare in this price range for earphones.

The Bottom Line

The Meze 12 Classic V2 and Final E3000 provide a mainstream tuning, but with an overall sound quality – and build quality – that outclasses their mainstream peers. The VR3000 doesn’t have the same level of build, but has technical prowess which far exceeds the competition. All three are great picks for high quality earphones on a budget.


Price

Looks

Sound

Bottom Line

Final E3000

$54

Mirrored stainless steel adds some class

Bass heavy, but better balanced with more detail than mainstream brands

Solid in-ears for the money, and a good introduction into a more detailed sound.

Meze 12 Classics V2

$69

Real wood and polished brass make for a nice looking earphone

Balanced with a little extra bass emphasis. Surprising soundstage for a $69 in-ear

Really excellent all around sound, and a great value.

Final VR3000

$79.99

Simple black plastic, but a removable 2-pin cable is a nice touch.

Neutral with absolutely incredible soundstage and imaging for the price

Designed for gaming, but a surprisingly good technical performer with music as well.