We have been covering IEMs at different price points in the past. We have tackled budget Ipicks for beginners, as well as mid-range picks in the sub 100, sub 200, and sub 300 USD price point for more advanced users. This time around, we are gathering the top premium picks in the sub 500 USD price point.
(Please note, at the time of publishing, all these were selling for $500 or less. Prices may have fluctuated since then, possibly pushing them over the original budget.)
Best IEMs Under $500
Driver Config: Hybrid 5 Driver (4 BA + 1 Dynamic)
Cable: Detachable (MMCX)
For the past years, Fiio has been primarily known for being a key player in the DAP market. Products such as the Fiio M11/M11 Pro and M15 were very successful and were even compared to more expensive DAPs. But in recent years, Fiio has been working hard in expanding their product lineup with IEMs.
One of the best ones in their current lineup is the Fiio FH7. This release has shaken up the audiophile community due to how well the FH7 stacks up against higher-end offerings from other brands. It is widely compared to the sound quality of the widely popular Campfire Audio Andromeda.
In terms of its design, the FH7 follows the same design elements as the rest of the IEMs in the FH series. It has a clean and minimalistic design with no logos or writings on the faceplate. It still has plenty of character since Fiio is the only one using this unique faceplate design.
The FH7 is made of aerospace-grade CNC machined aluminum-magnesium alloy, which makes the shells feel very premium to hold. The material used allows the FH7 to be as lightweight and comfortable as possible without compromising its durability.
The FH7 also comes with a wide array of accessories. It comes with a nice-looking Litz monocrystalline SPC cable, thirteen pairs of silicone ear tips, each slightly changing the sound signature (also includes three Spinfit ear tips), foam ear tips, faux leather case, fabric case, cleaning tool, and a magnetic cable tie. That is quite impressive since competing IEMs in this price point usually don’t have the same number of accessories.
Additionally, apart from the included silicone ear tips, the FH7 comes with three sets of tuning filters. These filters slightly impact the highs. They do not directly interfere with the lows and the mids. This is a great feature to have since users can change the intensity of the highs to prevent the IEMs from sounding too harsh or bright.
As for the sound signature, the Fiio FH7 has a balanced tuning with added brightness to the top end. It has a full sounding low-end thanks to the dynamic driver that it is using. It is well controlled and does not bleed into the midrange.
The mids are also quite neutral and are in line with the lows. It is full sounding and is able to accurately reproduce vocals and instruments in the mid frequencies.
The highs are a bit forward, making the FH7 lean towards the brighter end of the spectrum. The treble has good extension and sparkle but still does a great job of avoiding harshness. And, of course, you can use the tuning filters if you find the highs to be too bright sounding.
Overall, the FH7 is a well-tuned IEM and is arguably Fiio’s best effort to date. If you are looking for a great value IEM with a sound that can compete with higher-end models, then make sure to check out the Fiio FH7.
Driver Config: 8 Balanced Armature Drivers
Cable: Removable (MMCX)
BGVP is one of the newer brands on this list that quickly rose to fame in the IEM market. Great products such as the BGVP DM6, DM7. and ArtMagic VG4 (which we have reviewed in the past) have helped them become one of the major players in the Chi-Fi market.
Now, they are back with the long-awaited sequel to the DM7, the BGVP DM8. But unlike the DM7, BGVP isn’t looking to just slightly refresh an already great sounding IEM. They aim to innovate and push the boundaries of what is possible at this price point.
Right off the bat, the DM8’s main selling point is its 8 driver configuration. It is utilizing a mixture of Sonion and Knowles balanced armature drivers, two of the most prominent brands in the balanced armature market.
Additionally, the DM8 now comes by default with a 2.5mm balanced cable. It includes several adapters that convert to either an unbalanced 3.5mm connection or a balanced 4.4mm connection. This is nice to see since IEMs in this price point will mostly be used with DAPs or DAC/Amps with balanced outputs.
In terms of the build quality, you are getting two variants. The standard version is made of 3D Printed medical-grade resin material that has been used in past IEMs such as the DM7 and VG4.
The second variant is the stabilized wood version. This material isn’t quite common in the Chi-Fi scene. Each unit is handcrafted, making them unique from each other.
Of course, the big elephant in the room is the sound quality of the DM8. With 8 drivers, how well does it perform? To put it simply, the DM8 manages to create a coherent sound with great detail retrieval across the board.
The DM8 strays away from the signature of its predecessors and now has a more balanced signature. Its bass response is quite respectable and is able to pull off low notes pretty well. It won’t perform as well as dynamic drivers, but it comes close.
The midrange is quite surprising since it isn’t as scooped as the DM6 and DM7. It is pretty forward and engaging to listen to. It is quite smooth and is easily able to avoid harshness without sacrificing detail.
Of course, it can’t quite keep up with more expensive models that have a similar driver configuration in terms of aspects such as detail retrieval. But overall, the DM8 achieves its goal of creating a great value IEM that has a very competitive sound signature. If you were a fan of DM8’s previous efforts, then you will like this even better.
QDC Anole V3
Driver Config: 3 Balanced Armature Drivers
Cable: Detachable (QDC 2-Pin)
QDC has quickly become a household name in the IEM and CIEM market thanks to successful releases such as the QDC Neptune, Anole VX, and Gemini. They currently have a product in most of the price segments.
Their midrange offering is the QDC Anole V3. As its name suggests, it is utilizing 3 balanced armature drivers for its sound. QDC has already shown their prowess with just one driver in the Neptune, so it is expected that the Anole V3 would offer an even higher quality sound reproduction.
In terms of its aesthetics, the QDC Anole V3 goes for a similar look to the rest of QDC’s lineup. It is rocking a blue finish with a beautiful faceplate design that easily allows it to stand out. You can take things a step further by going with a custom fit design (CIEM) and select your own faceplate design.
However, even if you do decide to go with the universal version, you are still getting a great fit. Just like the QDC Neptune and Uranus, the Anole V3 has a semic custom fit design. The shells have grooves to accommodate the curves of your ears, giving an experience similar to the CIEM version.
In terms of the sound signature, the Anole V3 is balanced but has a bit of a bass boost. Lows are well executed and maximize the technical capability of the balanced armature driver used. Mids are slightly recessed in comparison to the lows and highs but are still incredibly detailed and resolving.
Highs are a bit forward but are still well controlled. It does a good job of avoiding harshness and sibilance.
There is, however, a unique feature in the Anole V3. It features tuning switches located at the back of the shells. This is a completely different approach to the filter system of the FH7 since you get a lot more control in terms of how you want to shape the sound signature.
There are three switches that allow you to achieve four unique sound signatures. Turning on the first switch makes the bass punchier and reduces the treble extension. Turning on the second switch allows vocals to become more forward and prominent in the Mix.
Turning both switches on gives the Anole V3 a treble boost making the upper treble more prominent in the mix.
Overall, if you want a gorgeous looking IEM that gives you different flavours of sound, then the Anole V3 is a strong recommendation from us.
Campfire Audio Polaris V2/V1
Driver Config: Hybrid Dual Driver (1 DD + 1 BA)
Cable: Detachable (MMCX)
Campfire Audio has already become a household name in the audiophile market. Hits such as the Campfire Audio Andromeda and Solaris have helped them quickly rise to fame. But since the release of those IEMs, Campfire Audio has expanded their product catalog to cover almost every possible price point.
Their entry in the mid-fi market is the Campfire Audio Polaris. This IEM sports a similar look to previous IEMs such as the Andromeda and Orion. But one of the first things that you immediately notice is its blue finish.
Aside from its aesthetics, the internals is also different from the other IEMs in Campfire Audio’s lineup. The Polaris is utilizing a 1 DD + 1 BA hybrid setup, which produces a V-shaped sound signature. With this kind of signature, the Polaris is more on the fun-sounding side rather than on the usual reference signature of its siblings.
With the Polaris, you are getting some hard-hitting bass that is perfect for energetic genres such as pop and electronic music. Mids are recessed on this mode. However, the detail retrieval is still topnotch, which is to be expected from a brand like Campfire Audio.
It is worth noting that the Polaris comes in two versions. The Polaris V2 is, of course, the latest one available in most retailers. However, a lot of enthusiasts consider it as a downgrade to the original Polaris.
So if you are planning on purchasing the Polaris, it might be worth looking for a retailer that still carries the original V1. But either way, if you are a fan of big bass and fun sounding IEMs, then the Polaris V1 and V2 are easily some of the best IEMs that you can buy in this price range.
Moondrop Blessing 2
Driver Config: Hybrid 5 Driver (4 BA + 1 DD)
Cable: Detachable (2 Pin 0.78 mm)
Moondrop is no stranger to making great-sounding IEMs. Back to back hits such as the Moondrop KXXS and Moondrop Starfield have made them favorites in the audiophile scene. This time around, they are back with their mid-fi offering, the Moondrop Blessing 2.
The Blessing 2 is an attractive looking IEM. The shells are made of 3D printed medical-grade resin, which shows no gaps or imperfections. The shells are resin filled which gives them good heft.
And to top off its look, the Blessing 2 utilizes CNC aluminum for its faceplate. It has a very clean design with a clean looking Blessing 2 and Moondrop logo.
You can choose to customize the Blessing 2’s faceplate with Moondrop’s premade designs. You can also request a custom artwork to give the Blessing 2 a unique look.
Just like the other products in Moondrop’s lineup, the Blessing 2 goes for a balanced sound signature. Lows are well done and manage to add enough weight to the overall sound without stealing the show. They are a bit forward, making them more on the revealing side.
Mids and highs are also smooth and avoid any kind of harshness or sibilance. There is very little to fault with the Blessing 2’s sound signature, making it a very safe option. Of course, not everyone is going to like this safe kind of signature.
But if what you are looking for is an IEM with a good amount of customizability and a safe sound signature that pairs well with most modern sources, then the Moondrop Blessing will be a good fit for you.
Ultimate Ears UE 5 Pro
Driver Config: 2 Balanced Armature Drivers
Cable: SuperBax IPX
Ultimate Ears is one of the most renowned companies in the professional IEM market. Their products have been used by professional world-class artists all over the world. They also have a long history with the earliest professional IEMs and have been in the industry since 1995.
One of the mainstays in UE’s product catalog is the classic Ultimate Ears UE5 Pro. This dual BA IEM serves as the entry-level model in their lineup. What makes the UE5 Pro a great IEM is because of two things; its superb build quality and sound quality.
The UE5 Pro is made with medical-grade resin, the same material that UE uses in all of their IEMs. This ensures that you won’t run into any issues when wearing these IEMs for extended periods.
The shells are very durable. These are made for touring artists, meaning UE has taken the necessary measures to ensure that these will handle any type of abuse that is thrown at them.
Additionally, the shells have a lightweight design. This makes the UE5 Pro extremely comfortable for long listening sessions.
Also, unlike the other models on this list, the UE5 Pro can be customized with various faceplate options. You can go all out with customization to truly make a unique looking IEM.
In terms of the sound quality, the UE5 Pro delivers a balanced sound signature that is perfect for live monitoring. It is also a great pair for music listening, especially if you want to hear accurate reproduction of your records.
The dual BA setup is able to reproduce a good amount of detail retrieval. Of course, you will be getting even better results when you move up in UE’s lineup. But at its price point, the UE5 Pro is pretty hard to beat.
The current version of the UE5 Pro is utilizing the new SuperBax connection system that is more durable than the common MMCX and 2-Pin connections.
The Ultimate Ears UE 5 Pro is primarily available in a Custom IEM form factor. However, websites like Drop are offering a universal version. Another alternative is the UE 5 Pro To-GO, which is part of Ultimate Ears’ universal lineup.
Overall, if you are looking for a great IEM that can be used as a professional studio monitor as well as a great pair for music listening, then the Ultimate Ears UE5 Pro is a great option.
Shure Aonic 5
Driver Config: 3 Balanced Armature Drivers
Cable: Removable (MMCX)
Shure has been a staple in the professional audio and audiophile community for decades. They were one of the first ones to dominate the universal IEM market with the Shure SE series (SE 215 and SE 846 were the most popular models). And with the advent of newer technology, Shure has refreshed their lineup to better compete with today’s offerings.
Their midrange offering is the Shure Aonic 5. In terms of its aesthetics, the Aonic 5 looks similar to the older generation Shure IEMs. It is still made of ABS plastic, which comes as a surprise considering the rest of the competition is now utilizing medical-grade acrylic. Half of the shells are transparent, which allows you to take a look at its internals.
Inside the Aonic 5 is a triple BA driver setup. And just like Shure’s flagship SE 846, the Aonic 5 comes with interchangeable filters that help alter the sound signature.
By default, the Aonic 5 features a neutral sound signature. It aims to deliver a natural-sounding and accurate timbre. But with the tuning filters, you can make the Aonic 5 warm sounding, bright, or balanced sounding. This makes the Aonic 5 a versatile choice depending on what you are planning to use it for.
The bass response of the Aonic 5 is pretty flat and non-exaggerated. It still manages to give enough body to make the IEMs full sounding. However, you might not get the punchy bass required for modern genres such as pop and electronic music.
The quality of the bass response can be changed with the warm tuning filter. However, its quantity is not increased, making sure that the bass never sounds bloated or too forward.
Mids, on the other hand, is clear and smooth. They are able to accurately reproduce vocals as well as instruments such as electric guitar. And no matter what tuning filter you use, they maintain their tonal characteristics.
Lastly, the highs are very detailed and have good extension. Its intensity can be changed with either the warm tuning filter or the bright tuning filter. Again, both filters do not change the quality and detail retrieval of the highs.
But the main attraction of the Aonic 5 is its wide soundstage and accurate imaging. This is inherited from previous releases such as the Shure SE 846.
The experience that you get with the Aonic 5 is quite astonishing. You won’t reach open-back headphone levels, but the Aonic 5 manages to trump most IEMs in its price range in terms of the soundstage. The imaging is also quite stellar, making detecting the various elements in a mix a breeze.
Overall, the Shure Aonic 5 is truly the evolution of Shure’s previous offerings. It manages to take all the great things about their older generation lineup while adding new things to make it more competitive in the market. If you are looking for a neutral sounding IEM with a good level of sound customization, then the Shure Aonic 5 is a great choice.