4 Ways IEMs are Better Than Headphones

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Moon Audio Bronze Dragon IEM Cable (left), Silver Dragon IEM Cable (middle), Black Dragon IEM Cable (right)

Ditch your Wired Headphones and switch to IEMs

The big debate of IEMs vs. headphones... Is one better than the other or do they both possess unique qualities that make them best suited for one person vs. another?

In-ear monitors, known as IEMs, have gained notoriety among the audiophile community as a small but mighty option for listeners however they're constantly being compared to the well-loved full-size headphones. What if I told you there are scenarios where IEMs are better than full-size over-ear headphones. Let's take a look at some scenarios where IEMs might be the best choice for you.

High-Fidelity Sound In a Tiny Portable Earphone

Small & Portable

Why Choose IEMs? First and foremost IEMs are small, much smaller than cumbersome full-size headphones. The small form factor of IEMs allows you more ergonomic flexibility than that of headphones. You're not restricted to just home audio use. You can take IEMs anywhere whether that's on your daily commute, shopping, long-distance travel, or exercising. Yep, IEMs are great for working out and they don't slide out of your ears nearly as easily as those pesky little Apple Airpods.

Not to mention the cable for your IEMs is thin and flexible so you don't have to worry about being jerked around by a bulky headphone cable. Your IEMs all coiled up will fit inside a travel case that's smaller than a wallet and they'll even fit in your pocket. Plus, they're unobtrusive. It's kind of hard to squeeze into the last available seat on a bus when you've got two clunky full-size ear cups hanging on your head. You might get some unwanted glares from earbud users.

Let's face it — Traditional full-size headphones just aren't as portable as IEMs. That's not to say you can't wear full-size headphones on the go, it just might be harder to do so. If you're looking for a wireless portable option there are plenty of audiophile-grade wireless earbuds like the Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds. You'll still get that high-fidelity sound but in a wire-free listening experience.

Girl walking and carrying a music player while listening to IEMs

Plethora of Portable Companions

Just like headphones, you'll need a device to drive your IEMs, and in this case a portable companion. Now, depending on the impedance of your IEMs you may be able to easily drive them using your smartphone, but it doesn't mean you should. Audiophile-grade IEMs deserve a high-quality DAC and headphone amplifier to drive them to peak performance. Without them, you won't get the level of high-fidelity audio output that your IEMs are designed to deliver.

There's a plethora of audio gear you can pair with your IEMs but for the sake of portability, let's focus on some excellent portable hifi gear for your tiny in-ear monitors. Digital Audio Players, known as DAPs, are essentially iPods on steroids. A DAP has a mobile OS like Android, a built-in high-end DAC and headphone amplifier, and is compatible with all your favorite hi-res streaming services. The more powerful your IEM, the more powerful your DAP must be, and vice versa. DAPs come in all shapes and sizes with one of our best sellers being the Sony WM1AM2 Walkman DAP Music Player.

If you want something without all the bells and whistles of a DAP, Portable DAC/Amps are a great option. The Chord Mojo 2 DAC Headphone Amp is the reigning portable king of DACs, driving almost every IEM on the market. An even smaller and more discrete option is the iFi GO Blu Headphone Amp DAC. It's equipped with a built-in microphone and battery allowing you to wirelessly connect your phone so you can take calls from the GO Blu.

Comfortable & Customizable

IEMs are small and effortlessly portable, but how do they stack up against full-size headphones in the comfort department? At first glance, you might be inclined to say headphones are far more comfortable than IEMs, but you'll be surprised to learn that IEMs are specifically designed with comfort in mind. Unlike earbuds that rest on the outer structure of the ear, IEMs sit inside your ear canal creating a seal in your ear that gives you a more secure fit and better noise isolation.

The seal and fit of your IEMs are indicative of the audio output you'll receive. You might have a pair of IEMs with incredible bass response, like our best-sellers the Empire Ears ODIN IEMs, but if your fit isn't sealing properly the bass might be subpar at best. This is a common error people make with IEMs and they jump to blame the device instead of the fit and seal. Optimum fit means better sound, more noise isolation, and improved bass, soundstage, and clarity.

Headphones are manufactured with a "one size fits all" approach when in reality it's really a "one size fits most" design. Beyond the ear pads, there's not much you can alter to maximize comfort in a pair of full-size headphones. IEMs are ingeniously designed with two fit types — Universal and custom. Note that not every IEM brand on the market offers custom IEMs, but Empire Ears, 64 Audio, Campfire Audio, and Noble Audio are a few brands that do. Universal IEMs are "one size fits most" designs, made to fit just about every ear canal so you can be reasonably sure they'll be comfortable for you while providing a good seal. Ear tips are 75% the solution of comfort and sound with universal IEMs and you can swap between hundreds of types like foam, silicone, or rubber.

Custom IEMs are exactly what they say they are — Custom. They're going to be more expensive than universal IEMs because they're designed and manufactured to fit your ear and no one else. An audiologist takes an impression of your ear's unique anatomy that the manufacturer uses to mold your custom IEMs. A custom IEM is going to deliver you the utmost comfort, fit and seal, and noise isolation. So if you're tired of your buddy always asking to borrow your headphones, get a pair of custom IEMs.

Great Price to Performance

Empire Ears ESR MKII Driver Technology diagram

Pictured: Empire Ears ESR MKII technology

If I haven't yet convinced you to choose IEMs over headphones let me share one more thing that will seal the deal — Price to performance. Audiophile gear isn't cheap and manufacturers have found all the loopholes to charge you more for less. So how are IEMs the exception to this clause? Although tiny, IEMs are packed full of technology. Most IEMs have multiple and different drivers in them working harmoniously together to deliver you the very best sound. Just because you're downsizing from a full-size headphone to an IEM it doesn't mean there's a downgrade in sound quality.

The Empire Ears ESR MKII IEMs have five drivers in them and the Empire Ears ODIN has 11. That's two dynamic, five balanced armature, and four electrostatic drivers squeezed into something that's smaller than a golf ball. There's no funny business — What you see is what you get with IEMs. The only exception to the IEM price-to-performance ratio can be with the stock cable, but that's where Moon Audio comes into play. If a manufacturer is going to cut costs anywhere it's going to be with the stock audio cable. It can be an afterthought and when you're shelling out your hard-earned money you want to know that the audio cable is made with the same high-quality materials, care, and attention as the IEM.


Dragon Audio Cables

We've designed and manufactured three Dragon IEM Cables for your 2-pin, 4-pin, and MMCX IEMs all handcrafted with high-quality materials. Why? Because materials matter! Our Silver Dragon, Black Dragon, and Bronze Dragon IEM Cables each have unique sound signatures allowing you to tailor your listening experience and change the coloration of your IEMs. Take the Empire Ears ODIN IEMs for example — While they've got great bass extension they're also quite balanced and natural-sounding, so our Silver Dragon IEM Cable will enhance the clarity and separation of the ODIN while still maintaining the presence of the bass. We've created an entire blog dedicated to our Dragon IEM Cables linked in the description below to learn more about the three sound signatures and how they'll impact your IEMs sound.

Dragon IEM Cables Explained

Generally, stock audio cables are manufactured with subpar materials, metals with impurities, poor geometries, and an overabundance of layers to make them look and feel like a fire hose. Inconsistency and lack of quality control in stock cables can lead to poor sound quality and a veiled sound vs. what the musician intended for you to hear and feel from the music. Dragon Audio Cables are handcrafted with the highest standards and made to order according to your specific needs. At Moon Audio, we create a custom cable for you using the highest quality UP-OCC silver or copper conductors that can be manufactured. UP-OCC metals are void of impurities and are optimized for signal transfer and sound quality. We have one of the largest collections of audio and headphone connection options available online and we create limitless audio cable options depending on your specific gear and needs.

Why Dragon Audio Cables?

You’ve heard the saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, right? Well, the same applies to your brand new audiophile-grade headphone or other audio components. The weakest link, in this case, is your stock audio cable or the cheap interconnects the manufacturer threw in the box just to get you up and running. Why is the audio cable always an afterthought, when it’s just as important as the rest of your system? At Moon Audio, we use the purest and best raw materials in our cables to unveil your music. We believe that materials matter and your audio cables should have the same care and craftsmanship that manufacturers put into their audio components and headphones. Audio cables are ultimately the connection to your music. The fact remains that cabling is often considered the last priority to that of the main product and a means to cut down the overall production costs. It’s as simple as that. Dragon Cables elevate every note - as if you were hearing your favorite music for the very time. 


At the end of the day, it comes down to personal preferences when deciding if IEMs are right for you. Full-size headphones are great for certain scenarios, but they lack the portability and customization of IEMs. If you want something incredibly versatile that you can use anywhere at any time then IEMs are the way to go. The Empire Ears ODIN IEMs deliver unparalleled performance that's worth every penny — You get incredible bass and an extraordinary listening experience in an IEM that's packed FULL of technology. A perfect entry-level IEM, the Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds will provide you with plenty of technology like active noise cancellation and Bluetooth multi-point so you can join high-fidelity sound wirelessly. You don't ever have to second guess if you should bring your IEMs with you or if they'll bother those around you — Because they won't. Your perfect pair of IEMs will grow with you and adapt to your lifestyle. Paired with a DAP like the Sony WM1AM2 Walkman DAP Music Player and you've got the ultimate portable audiophile setup. So if you're debating on purchasing a pair of IEMs, I say go for it! The worst that happens is you fall in love with them and never look back.

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