I reviewed the Sony MDR-EX51s recently and their breakdown prompted me to try to find a similar product that didn't have all the letdowns of the EX51s. After a little bit of research, I stumbled upon the Panasonic HJE50s, a set of in-canal earbuds that use the same silicone earplug design as the EX51s, but with a much better construction.
At first, the HJE50s look much like the EX51s. The same asymmetrical cord lengths for around-the-neck use, the same silicone earplugs (I could actually use them interchangably), and a similar look, even though I prefer the EX51s aesthetics compared with the simple design of the HJE50s. The sound quality between the two is almost negligible, with both having solid crisp sound with ample bass for earbuds. However, the cord issue with the EX51s was clearly not a problem for the HJE50s. The rubber is harder, slightly thinner and not sticky at all, so it doesn't catch onto things as easily. Even after fully zipping it up by accident, the rubber is still as solid as ever and shows no signs of wear or exposure. This was a big plus for me, as I sometimes use the earbuds out in various amounts of weather, which the HJE50s handle nicely.
The cord is seperated into two segments in the HJE50. The earbuds reach down to a length of only 50 cm (1.6ft) which is the short cord segment, but have a extension connector that goes to 3.3ft more (1m)
, which is enough length for anybody's pockets. The connection can be a hassle, as it is a slight weight in the middle of the cord, which can get caught and bounce around. I personally just use the short cord and have my iPod in a chest pocket, so it is the perfect length and there is no excess cord to have to tangle up. The flexibility is nice, but I find I don't use the extension unless necessary.
Overall, the HJE50s are about on par with the EX51s, but they come out on top due to the much better designed cord and flexible extension design. As they're about the same price, it's clear the HJE50s are the much better investment.