I don't believe in spending a large amount of money on earphones when you are primarily going to be listening to music on the move which innevitably means listening in a relatively noisy environment. What's the point in spending £150+ when no matter how good the isolation might be you will loose £100 worth of fidelity to background noise and/or down to the headphone amp on your portable device not being sonically perfect.
Many years ago I used to own a pair of Shure E2C earphones. Whilst not the top of the Shure range these were fantastic earphones due not only to their sound quality but their sound isolation which was so good you could barely hear anything else around you with them on. Sadly the biggest problem with the E2C's was the cable which over time turned brittle and started to break. When I was looking for a replacement pair I instantly looked again at the Shure range but at that time the E2C had been discontinued and the current model that was it's nearest equivalent based on spec and position within the range was quite a lot more expensive and didn't have as good reviews.
I looked around at others but at that time there weren't as many sound isolating earphones on the market as there are today and even fewer that were any good. The biggest problem was in the amount of isolation and the amount of bass earphones could offer. Many companies used cheap ear buds which did not offer sufficient isolation and the size of the drivers was too small to provide sufficient bass. Indeed whilst the isolation of the E2C's was excellent they were a bit on the light side in terms of bass reproduction.
In recent years there has been a big push to make very bass heavy earphones which have proved popular with 'kids' into dance and rap music etc but the bass that these produce is far too artificial and forced for my ears and is at the sacrifice of either the mid range or high frequencies.
I ended up buying a cheap pair of Sennheiser CX 300 II earbuds simply because they were cheap and there were a lot of good reviews about them. Big mistake. They may be cheap but they sound awful. Whilst it is true that they offer more bass then my old E2C's did the sound can only be described as muffled, there is no clarity or definition to music whatsoever and the only thing that they sound okay with is when watching TV programs.
When these failed I again looked around for a new pair of earphones which is when I came across the House of Marley Conqueror earphones. Initially I admit that I dismissed these without really looking at them as just another pair of 'celebrity' endorced headphones much like the Beats range. However reading many reviews on them suggested that they should be considered. With an RRP of £60 that was more money then I wanted to risk on an unknown brand and I again looked at the Shure range. Shure now have two models of a similar price the SE112 and the SE215. The spec of the SE112 says that it has a frequency response of just 25hz - 17Khz which to me suggested that they would lack bass a bit like the E2C's did. The SE215 is slightly better in that it has a frequency response of 22Hz-17.5Khz. By comparison though the Marley Conqueror's have a frequency response of 12Hz - 22Khz. Significantly lower and higher, but would this make them sound fake like the CX 300 II's do especially as the CX 300 II's have a similar frequency response of 17Hz-21Khz?
Frequency response is only part of the story though (and doesn't tell the full story in terms of how they will sound or how much bass they will or will not have). Impedance is another significant factor with the Shures having an impedance of 20 ohm whilst the CX 300 II's being 16 ohm as have the Marley Conqueror. Therefore on paper the Marley Conqueror are very, very similar to the Sennheiser CX 300 II's but I thought the Sennheisers sounded wooly and false with no detail.
The Marley Conquerors have an RRP of £60 but you can often find them for around £40 or less and when I saw them for just £25 I thought I had to give them a try, they couldn't be any worse than the CX 300 II's could they?
The earphones come with 5 different sized and shape ear tips and it is vital that you choose the right size to fit your ear. I initially chose ones that were shaped like two tips on top of each other. These are thiner than most of the other sizes but my thinking was that it would allow the earphone to be inserted further into the ear canal with the second tip acting as an additional baffle. When I first listened to them with these tips my heart sank. They sounded awful. Painfully bright with a small amount of bottom end and virtually nothing in the mid range. However some music did sound quite good and you really could hear that there was much more detail in the music. I decided to persevere with them for 3 more days and gradually they started to sound a little better but still there seemed no mid range. I also found that the ear tips I had chosen were starting to hurt my ears and so I changed them for a slightly larger single layer one. Boy what a difference! Suddenly there was mid range and wow what clarity and detail. The bottom end was also massively extended with a real deep but tight bass that wasn't at all flappy and more importantly not false.
I really was on the verge of replacing these after just a few days but now I can't wait to listen to music with them as they are so much better than the CX 300 II's that it feels like you are listening to songs for the first time again. Do they have a downside?
Yes, there are two things that aren't great. The cable and noise isolation. The cable has a braided fabric covering which unfortunately makes it conductive to sound when it rubs against clothing or your face. That's not a problem if like me you are sat still on a train but would be a problem if you are walking. The noise isolation is good, better than the CX 300 II's but is far short of that offered by Shure earphones. Shure say that their earphones remove 90% of background noise and having had the E2C's I would agree. The difference seems to me to be down to the ear tips that Shure use. Most companies use soft ear tips that are very thin and are easily flattened. Shure on the other hand use thicker rubber that retains most of it's shape when squeezed. As a result other brands like Marley and Sennheiser might initially feel more comfortable but if you get the right size ear tip the Shure's are just as comfortable and offer way, way more isolation. The only other criticism I have of the Marley Conqueror's is that the mid range could be a little warmer but really that's nit picking and at this price they are an absolute bargain.