Top 5 Best Balanced Armature In-Ear Monitors Under $500 2021


In-ear monitors are often preferred over foldback/loudspeaker monitors because they are more consistent and offer clearer monitoring on stage and in the studio. By listening to a curated mix through in-ear monitors, we can monitor a consistent mix without relying on loudspeakers that all too often only add to the noise pollution.

Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, a great set of balanced-armature in-ears could really improve your monitoring. Many of the in-ear BA monitors on the market are over a thousand dollars. In this article, we’ll look at the top 5 options that cost under $500 USD to get you a great pair without breaking the bank.

The top 5 best balanced-armature in-ear monitors under $500 are:

Of course, any list of this sort is inherently subjective. That being said, I firmly believe these are the best options when taking into account the $500 price cap.

Since we’re having a discussion within the context of a price cap, I figure I should leave a link to a related My New Microphone article: Are Expensive Headphones (Or Cheap Headphones) Worth It?


What Makes A Great Balanced Armature In-Ear Monitor?

Though the term “best” is subjective, we should still list out the criteria used for determining what makes a great pair of balanced armature in-ear monitors.

  • Comfort: this is perhaps the simplest yet most important criterion of any pair of earphones. Though highly subjective, factors such as weight; shape, and the overall dimension play a role in comfort.
  • Impedance/device compatibility: compatibility with different audio devices is important. Choose a pair of high-end balanced armature in-ear monitors that will be easily incorporated into your set up whether that’s a mobile device or a professional studio. Impedance and sensitivity ratings come into play when determining compatibility.
  • Frequency response: a great pair of in-ear monitors should be able to reproduce the full audible spectrum from 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz with clarity.

Noise cancelling is also an important thing to consider when choosing in-ear monitors. If there is active noise-cancelling, how much reduction is possible and how does it affect the sound of the in-ears overall?

Wireless transmission is also something to look out for. Are the in-ears wired or wireless and will they require a separate receiver or not (if we plan on using them wirelessly). Wireless options will require power and so battery life is another concern.

With that, let’s get into our top 5 balanced armature in-ear monitors under $500!

To learn more about balanced armature earphone transducers before we begin, please take some time to read through my article The Complete Guide To Balanced Armature IEMs/Earphones.


Related article: Top Best Balanced Armature In-Ear Monitors

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Shure SE535

First up is an excellent pair of BA in-ear monitors from the well-known American manufacturer Shure. They are the Shure SE535 (link to check the price on Amazon).

Shure SE535

The Shure SE535 is a wireless in-ear monitor that features 3 balanced armature drivers per earpiece and offers a wide frequency response from 18 Hz to 19.5 kHz.

To learn more about in-ear monitor and headphone frequency response, check out my article What Is Headphone Frequency Response & What Is A Good Range?

This 3-driver IEM delivers a surprisingly spacious sound with clear separation of various element and of high and low frequencies.

Of the 3 BA drivers, 2 of the SE535’s drivers are woofers and 1 is a tweeter. The woofers offer tight, pumping bass while the tweeter enhanced the high-end with clarity and precision.

The SE535 comes with two detachable cables.

The universal 3.5mm communication cable allows the IEM to be plugged directly into an audio device or wireless receiver.

The Bluetooth 4.1 cable offers inherent wireless capabilities via the Bluetooth protocol. Unfortunately, the battery life is rather limited at only “more than two hours”.

To learn more about headphone cables and wireless headphones, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
An In-Depth Look Into How Headphone Cables Carry Audio
How Do Wireless Headphones Work? + Bluetooth & True Wireless

The Shure SE535 IEM is made of premium components, as are its cables. The durable design will easily withstand professional, performance-level wear and tear.

The physical earpieces fit easily into most ears and the IEMs come with 8 different pairs of ear tips, allowing users to find the fit that’s perfect for their ears.

Once fitted properly, the sound isolating design of the SE535 will eliminate exterior noise and keep the audio pristine and clear, even on noisy stages.

Key Specifications:

  • Transducer Type: 3 per earpiece
  • Impedance: 36 Ω
  • Frequency Response: 18 Hz to 19,000 Hz
  • Sensitivity: 119 dB at 1 mW
  • IP Rating: no info
  • Open/Closed-Back: in-ear
  • Weight: 0.56 lb
  • Wireless/Wired: Bluetooth 5

To learn more about headphone specifications, be sure to read my article Full List: Headphone/Earphone Specifications w/ Examples.

Shure is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 14 Best Earphone/Earbud Brands In The World and Top 13 Best Headphone Brands In The World.

The following in-ear BA monitors from Shure are part of the same line as the SE535 and are also worth checking out:


Westone W40

The second model on this list comes from a well-respected and innovative company that specializes in in-ear and acoustic products. It is the Westone W40 (link to check the price on Amazon).

Westone W40

The Westone W40 is a wireless in-ear monitor that features 4 of Westone’s proprietary balanced armature drivers per earpiece. It offers a beautifully flat frequency response from 10 Hz to 18,000 Hz.

These IEMs provide articulate lows, precise mid-range, sparkling highs, and performance that is perfect for recorded and mastered music.

The W40 earbuds are a product of Westone’s long experience in designing products for the ear. The universal-fit earpieces of the W40 are compact, low-profile, lightweight, and extremely comfortable.

This IEM comes with 10 options of ear tips for maximal flexibility in terms of fit. There are 5 pairs of patented STAR silicone tips and 5 pairs of proprietary WA Ergonomic Ear Tip Technology Foam Tips. One or more of these pairs will certainly make the perfect fit and unlock the full potential of the W40’s sonic clarity and noise isolation.

Like the aforementioned Shure SE535, the Westone W40 comes with two distinct cables.

The first is a high definition silver MMCX cable that features four strands of low-resistance, pure-silver plated copper alloy conductors, braided around a center-strengthening core. This low-resistance cable offers superb audio transfer between the connected device and the IEM. The cable ends with the typical 3.5mm plug.

Related article: Differences Between 2.5mm, 3.5mm & 6.35mm Headphone Jacks.

The other cable is a full-resolution Bluetooth cable that utilizes the aptX® protocol. The Bluetooth features include 8 hours of battery life; a 10 m (32 ft) range; IPX4 rating, and high-quality MMCX Audio connectors.

Key Specifications:

  • Transducer Type: 4x balanced armature
  • Impedance: 31 Ω
  • Frequency Response: 10 Hz – 18,000 Hz
  • Sensitivity: 118dB SPL @ 1mW
  • IP Rating: IPX4
  • Open/Closed-Back: in-ear
  • Weight: 0.445 oz
  • Wireless/Wired: Bluetooth

Simgot EK3

Third on the is the Simgot EK3 (link to check the price on Amazon) from the Chinese company Simgot.

Simgot EK3

The Simgot EK3 IEMs utilizes triple Knowles balanced armatures with a 3-way crossover system to achieve its natural and transparent sound.

This IEM features 2 toggle switches that allow users to switch between 4 different tunings. These tuning affect the frequencies response and allow for improved in-ear mixes without the need for external controls. The tunings are labelled accurately as Strong Bass, Bright Vocal, Exquisite Tone and Balanced Tuning.

So for the vast majority of cases, the Simgot EK3’s will get its users pretty close to their desired result without much work in EQ or other external audio processing.

The Simgot EK3 is manufactured with digital light processing 3D printing with 25µm precision. The production equipment ensures consistency across each and every pair. Precision in design reduces resonance and flattens the frequency response.

The skin-friendly resin that covers the EK3 is medical-grade, keeping users ears comfortable while keeping bacteria from breeding.

The ear hooks, over-ear-style fit and carefully-crafted earbud shape keeps the EK3 earbuds secure and in position. Choose from the 6 included eartips (3 penetrating and 3 balanced) for an ideal snug fit in the ear canal to ensure proper performance in terms of frequency response and noise isolation.

The detachable cable design has ample protection to avoid breaking connection pins. The EK3 works with the popular 0.78mm 2-pin interface and comes with a HiFi OCC&SPC-braided silver-plated cable for superior audio transfer quality.

Note that the EK3s are, indeed, wired and so if you’d like to go wireless, you’d need to invest in a wireless audio system with a receiver that the IEMs can plug into. The cable of the EK3s has a 3.5mm plug.

Key Specifications:

  • Transducer Type: 3x balanced armature (Knowles 22955, Knowles 30017)
  • Impedance: 14 Ω – 18 Ω
  • Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 40,000 Hz
  • Sensitivity: ≥115dB (at 1000Hz)
  • IP Rating: no info
  • Open/Closed-Back: in-ear
  • Weight: 10.4 oz.
  • Wireless/Wired: Wired

FiiO FA9

FiiO is another Chinese company. The FiiO FA9 (link to check the price on Amazon) is the fourth model on this list.

FiiO FA9

FiiO’s FA9 in-ear monitor has 6 Knowles balanced armature drivers per earpiece. A 4-way electronic crossover effectively drives each driver with its preferred frequencies and an extra-long 80.6mm sound tube improves the low-end response. The overall frequency response of the FA9 is an impressive 15 Hz to 40,000 Hz (this is far wider than the audible range of human hearing).

Special attention in design was brought to the mid-frequencies to ensure realistic and apparent vocal reproduction. These superb mids are made possible by a collaboration between Fiio and Knowles that brought fourth the EJ-33877 driver.

The aforementioned electronic crossover can be tuner by the user with 3 sound adjustment switches, covering 8 different possibilities in sound reproduction. Each earbud has the following switches:

  • Switch 1: on for lower impedance and higher sensitivity.
  • Switch 2: one for treble boost.
  • Switch 3: on for reduced bass and increased mids.

Adjust the sound to your individual liking to hear the best audio possible from the FA9. That being said, the 4-way crossover is designed to sound superb regardless of the chosen setting.

The robust design of the FA9, like many great in-ear monitors, is accurately produced with digital light processing 3D printing. The resin of the design is EU IIA medically-certified to ensure the FA9 earpieces will not irritate the skin and remain comfortable over longer listening/performing sessions.

Also, like many great IEMs, the FiiO FA9 earpieces were designed looking at thousands of individuals’ ear model data. The result is a design that fits comfortable in the ear for the vast majority of users.

To further customize the fit in the ear canal, the FA9’s come with 15 different pairs of ear tips including various sizes of balanced, enhanced bass, enhanced vocals, Spinfit, foam and double-flanged tips.

The 8-strand monocrystalline silver-plated copper cable is detachable and carries superior quality audio. The cable has a 3.5mm gold-plated plug to connect to the desired audio device or wireless receiver.

Related article: What Is The Difference Between A Microphone Plug And Jack? (applies universally to audio connections).

Key Specifications:

  • Transducer Type: 6x Knowles Balanced Armatures
  • Impedance: 16-32Ω @ 1kHz
  • Frequency Response: 15 Hz – 40,000 Hz
  • Sensitivity: 111 dB/mW
  • IP Rating: no info
  • Open/Closed-Back: in-ear
  • Weight: 6.2g (per unit)
  • Wireless/Wired: Wired

FiiO is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Headphone Amplifier Brands In The World.


Audio-Technica ATH-E70

Audio-Technica is known worldwide as a great manufacturer of audio equipment. The Audio-Technica ATH-E70 (link to check the price on Amazon) comes at the fifth and final spot on this list.

Audio-Technica ATH-E70

The ATH-E70 is the flagship in-ear monitor model in the E-Series. 3 balanced armature drivers (per earpiece) provide accurate and extended response across the entire frequency range.

The accuracy and detail of the ATH-E70 IEM make it an ideal choice for both stage and studio monitors. The monitors are also a great choice for regular listening for the simple enjoyment of superior audio.

The specially-designed housing of the ATH-E70 provides excellent noise isolation when fitted properly. To maximize this passive noise attenuation (and comfort), the E70 comes with 4 sizes of silicone ear tips and a medium-size pair of Comply T500 foam eartips. One of these pairs is sure to fit snug to provide the isolation and comfort mentioned above.

The ATH-E70’s detachable 1.6m cable is designed with A2DC (Audio Designed Detachable Coaxial) connectors at the earpieces and a typical 3.5mm connector at the device.

For under $500, the ATH-E70 is a superb IEM option with the comfort and audio quality we’d expect for a top-performing set of in-ears.

Key Specifications:

  • Transducer Type: 3x balanced armautre
  • Impedance: 39 Ω
  • Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 19,000 Hz
  • Sensitivity: 109 dB/mW
  • IP Rating: no info
  • Open/Closed-Back: in-ear
  • Weight: 9 g (0.3 oz) without cable
  • Wireless/Wired: Wired

Audio-Technica is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 13 Best Headphone Brands In The World.

The Audio-Technica ATH-IM03 (link to check the price on Amazon) is another superb option under $500.

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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