I'm kinda hard on ear buds. I wear them a lot - when doing household tasks like cleaning and cooking dinner, when crafting in the workshop, on long bike trail rides... I even use them when not connected to anything, à la ear plugs, to drown out ambient noise when working from the coffee shop. As an introvert, I wear them in the airport and the grocery store and the book shop not so I can avoid others, but because I like being out and moving about in the real world listening to things that inspire me.
And, I'm kinda hard on them. I used to buy pricier ones, but no matter how careful I'd be, they'd get caught on something or the contact points would fray, and they'd simply go kaput. I don't think of them as "disposable" but I am certainly a heavy user, and its hard to justify $50 or $100 on something you know is gonna need replaced at least once a year.
I experimented with a few styles, and then Bruno, ManMade's publisher, recommended a pair of these to me. And they're the best pair of ear buds I've ever owned. They sound great, they fit great, and they cost less than $15.00.
They're the Panasonic RPTCM125K headphones, and I think they're pretty great for under $15.00.
The Features: In the era of the smartphone, you gotta have that remote button with a mic. Not cause you should take calls with it all the time (though it is nice when your mom calls and you're doing the dishes), but because it's awesome to stop and start what you're playing with a physical button, instead of having to take your phone out of its pocket or storage place and start swiping around.
These have a single button you can use to stop and start music/podcasts, answer a call, or ring up Siri. Which I never actually use, except to ask her to set an eight minute timer or something when I'm cooking. That's nice.
There's no volume control on the remote, but that's negligible - you can just touch the buttons on the side of your phone.
Other than that, the 90° input jack is helpful when fitting into a pocket, and it (I assume) helps cut down on wear-and-tear. When it takes a side impact, it just spins inside the headphone jack, instead of stressing from side to side. And the wiring and housing is very flexible, allowing for easy routing and a mostly tangle-free experience.
The Fit: This is wear these guys really shine. Your ear canal is not a perfectly round symmetrical tube, nor does it sit exactly perpendicular to your head. And unlike most pairs I've used, these are designed to reflect that anatomy.
These have an elliptical rubber tip that fits extremely well for a secure fit that doesn't fall out when exercising or during heavy use. Technically, I guess that makes them earphones rather than ear buds or headphones, but, c'mon, it's a means of delivering audio to your ears and not to the outside world. Call 'em what you want, they work and they work well.
They approach your ear at an angle, and they actually fit.You can use these comfortably while lying down or under a hat or helmet. This makes the left and right fit very distinct, and so it's clear when you've inserted them on the wrong side.
The Sound: It's good. Very good. I have a pair of studio monitor style headphones that I use for actual music making, but I've never used these and said "wow, that music sounds terrible" The drivers are 9mm, and the frequency balance is solid - the highs sizzle, the lows boom as well as any in-ear headphones, and things sound clean.
In particular, I find these to cut through ambient noise really well, without having to blast the volume. I'm guessing it's the "ergo fit" design, but you can always hear stuff without really cranking it. When I go on long bike trail rides, I wear one earphone only; I only listen to spoken word, not music, as it has a much smaller frequency spectrum and allows me to hear traffic, other cyclists and users on the trail, and the ambient sounds of what's going around me. With these, I always feel like I can just hear the voices talking, like it's someone riding next to me, rather than filling my whole head with noise. Its just a pleasant private listening experience without feeling totally secluded and disconnected from the world, which, to me, is kinda the whole point of headphones.
Discerning audiophiles might have something they prefer, but again, these are $10.00 earbuds designed for heavy use every day, and both music and spoken audio (podcasts, radio, audiobooks) sound great. And that's what I expect from a pair of earbuds.
The Style: Non-descript, really. These look like headphones. They come in candy colors, but I like the basic black. The flexible wiring makes them appear kinda wrinkly, but I dunno... I don't think anyone is judging me on the relative, uh, rigidity of my headphone cabling. They're not as stylish as my beloved AIAIAIs, but they also didn't fall apart after three months like my last three pairs of AIAIAIs, and did I mention they cost less than $15.00?
The Dislikes: The only potential drawback to these is that the rubber tips here are offset, so if you do lose one, you can't grab another from an existing pair or replacement pack. But, that said, the shape makes it such that the actual bud itself never falls off, at least it hasn't for me. And I've lost a lot of those little rubber ear bud things. And, at this price, it's not the end of the world if you do have to replace them altogether anyway.
So, I recommend the Panasonic RPTCM125K Headphones as much as I've ever recommended anything on ManMade. I actually have two pair - one I keep with my cycling kit and one for general use. I've taken to keeping them on me with my other daily carry items, and they coil up tight enough that its never annoying to have them around.
Go check them out.