How Much Should You Spend on In-Ear Monitors? 7 Price Points Compared

Whether you’re an audiophile or a casual listener, every music lover should have a pair of IEMs (in-ear monitor) earphones to enjoy high-quality audio in a portable body. If you’re new to in-ear monitoring and unsure which IEMs to buy, this guide will show you what to expect from each IEM price point to make a better buying decision.

What’s So Special About IEMs?

In-ear monitors were traditionally built for touring artists needing a portable audio monitoring device. Since stages are so loud, artists often have trouble hearing their mix.

IEMs (especially custom-molded ones) let them privately listen to things the audience isn’t supposed to hear, such as metronomes, backing tracks, or dance cues—all while minimizing ambient noise. This is why high-end IEMs are so expensive.

Today, IEMs are available at every price and come in all shapes, sizes, and configurations. And as we’ve covered before, IEMs are better than earbuds in almost every way. They not only sound better and isolate more noise but are often more comfortable too.

Under $50: Welcome to In-Ear Monitoring

If you’re new to IEMs, it’s best to start small and explore your taste. The under $50 price bracket is perfect for those looking for cheaper alternatives to their pricey wireless earbuds. Since wired headphones are more cost-effective, you can get way more value for your money.

IEMs under $50 usually resort to the mainstream V-shaped sound signature, but you can also find some great budget IEMs such as the Moondrop Chu with a flatter profile if you prefer more accurate sound reproduction. If you don’t understand what a V-shaped sound signature is, check out our guide on the types of sound signatures.

$50–$100: Better Build and Accurate Bass

For up to $100, you’re getting better build quality, cleaner vocals, and more accurate bass. Normally, bass on earbuds at this price tends to overpower other frequencies and has a long “decay,” meaning it stays buzzing in your ears longer than it should.

But good IEMs under $100 can deliver accurate bass rather than overblown and muddy. You’ll have to see their frequency response graph to check this, though. You might also want to check if your IEMs reach the Harman target, as many believe it gives the best sound.

$100–$200: Value for Money Sweet Spot

IEMs up to $200 offer two important things that cheaper alternatives usually don’t: a wider soundstage and better audio imaging. Be sure to check our guide if you’re unsure what the difference between soundstage and audio imaging is.

Put simply, a wide soundstage feels like the music is coming from far away (as if from an auditorium); imaging means how well the IEMs simulate the perceived spatial locations of instruments in a song. Soundstage is about distance, and imaging is about direction.

$200–$500: Planar IEMs and Accessories

If you want more, you get quite a few upgrades in the $200–$500 price range. The highlight of this bracket is that it introduces planar magnetic IEMs such as the 7Hz Timeless. There are different types of headphone drivers, with each having different aptitudes.

Dynamic drivers are mainstream, but planar magnetic drivers are clearly superior as they minimize distortion and give accurate bass, cleaner highs, and palpable vocals. However, if tuned poorly, even planar IEMs can sound bad. Again, check their frequency graphs!

That said, a lot of what makes IEMs at this price worth it are the accessories that come in the box, such as a high-quality leather carry case, a set of extra foam and silicon ear tips, extra cables, plug adapters for your DAC, microfiber cleaning cloth, and more.

$500–$1000: Audiophile IEMs

For up to $1000, you’re going to have some very strong expectations from your IEMs, and one of them is rugged build quality. IEMs at this price are built really well and use premium materials, including aluminum, stainless steel, carbon fiber, or acrylic polymer plastics.

You can also expect removable nozzles that can be easily detached and cleaned or replaced with spare ones if yours break—ensuring longevity. Luckily, some cheaper IEMs, such as the $299 Fiio FD5, also come with extra nozzles if you find this feature helpful.

Note that IEMs at this price are built for audiophiles, so they’re not going to have extra bass and instead sound flatter and true-to-life. Also, most IEMs at this price use MMCX connectors instead of 2-pin connectors, so be careful when buying aftermarket cables.

$1000–$2000: Custom IEMs

If you don’t want a one-size-fits-all design, you can get IEMs custom-made for your ears. They are called CIEMs or Custom In-Ear Monitors, and they’re made using a silicon mold of your earholes mapping all the folds and ridges. The end result is a custom-molded IEM shell that fits you like no other pair of earphones in the world can.

As you can imagine, this process isn’t cheap, and that’s why CIEMs are almost exclusively used by artists who perform live on stage. This extra secure fit is important for maximizing noise isolation, comfort, and grip so that the earpieces don’t fall off while you’re performing. That said, there are tons of universal fit IEMs at this price too.

Above $2000: Luxury IEMs

There’s really no price ceiling for IEMs, so we’re categorizing everything above $2000 as luxury IEMs. The goal for in-ear monitors at this price is to replace your primary bulky over-ear studio headphones. This is easier said than done, of course. Since over-ear headphones are so much bigger, they can house big and powerful speakers.

IEMs have to find a way to replicate that same level of audio quality using much smaller speakers, which requires more innovation and engineering. The miniaturization of these powerful subwoofers and tweeters is what bumps up the price. However, the end result is close to the best sound money can buy.

Step Into the World of IEMs

In-ear monitors have been slowly growing in popularity for quite some time now, and for a good reason. They sound better, are more comfortable, don’t fall off, offer more passive noise isolation, have detachable cables, and are more cost-effective.

Like we always say, you don’t need to spend a fortune to get great sound. If audio quality is a priority, stop wasting your money on wireless stuff and just get yourself a nice pair of similarly priced IEMs that will sound miles better and last several years.

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