A couple of weeks ago I saw a WIRED article raving about the Mrice E300 earbuds, a pair of no-brand $15 Chinese-made earbuds. The review pointed me at some threads on Reddit and various headphone forums where people were posting about a different model, the E100 — again, from Chinese manufacturer Mrice. They’re also sold under the name Chintek. If you search, you can find reviews scattered across the web.
Amazon was out of E100s, but I tracked down a set on eBay — for $10, including shipping. Given that I go through cheap earbuds on a fairly regular basis, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to buy a spare pair — and hey, maybe they would actually be pretty good.
They arrived today, and… Wow. This is definitely the best set of sub-$50 earbuds I’ve heard in a long, long time. The construction seems solid, too, with a thick rubberized tangle-resistant cable.
Bass is excellent without being overpowering. Midrange lacks richness when you listen to orchestral music, and highs are a little harsh when loud, but those are givens with cheap earbuds. On the upside, clarity is excellent — with FLAC source files the soundstage is very consistent, and you can hear the tiniest details. Sensitivity is very high — your portable equipment will drive them easily.
One downside is that you might have trouble getting them to stay in your ears solidly, so that the bass is intact. They could really use a silicone sleeve, or some sort of protrusion to keep them in place in your ears. I might have to try the E300s, which are in-ear phones.
I’m not about to say that the E100s compare to pro-grade in-ear monitors, as some people have, but I definitely think they can hold their own against headphones costing 10x their meagre price. For example, they’re better than the Sennheiser CX300 II earbuds I owned, which have an MSRP of $80.
Verdict: Buy some for your MP3 player. I mean, come on — $10! What have you got to lose?