I was recently approached by an old friend of mine (when I say approached, I mean by email of course. Who talks in person nowadays?), who had just purchased the Apple in-ear headphones, which I posted about when they were announced. At the time, I was under the impression that they were not worth the money, to which employees of Apple inc. commented that I was wrong, and they are actually fairly priced compared to other headphones in their class. Anyway, I just received the review, and it is a good one folks. Seems like Eli knows a heck of a lot more than me when it comes to audio quality. So with no further ado, the in depth review of Apple’s flagship accessory, the in-ear headphones.
The Apple In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic:
A Review by Eli Ungar-Sargon
When I bought my new Apple In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I felt the usual rush of excitement that only an Apple product can elicit. I love buying Apple technology and the company has earned my trust by consistently producing best-in-class products. On the other hand, my experience with Apple-made accessories has not been so rosy.
While the ubiquitous white Apple headphones that come with every iPod have evolved over time, they’re still not very good. They fall apart after a couple of years and their sound is not really fit for serious listening. Sure, they get the job done, but the sonic range that these ear-buds can reproduce is so limited that music ends up sounding muddy and unclear. Given this fact, it’s not surprising that the 3rd party market for iPod headphones has thrived. Apple saw this happening and in 2004 decided to try to get a piece of the higher-end headphone market by releasing their “In Ear Headphones”. Like a good Apple sheep, I bought them and I’m sorry to report that they were a total disaster. Not only did they have the most bizarre frequency response of any headphone I’d ever listened to, but they didn’t fit properly in my ear.
To make matters worse, their strange shape prevented them from achieving a tight seal, which is what an in-ear headphone must do in order to effectively reproduce those deep lows. In the end, I invested in a pair of pricey in-canal Shure headphones and let me tell you, going from stock iPod headphones to the E4cs was like moving from box wine to a ‘95 Chateau Margaux. My ears were happy until I bought my first iPhone.
While I loved the convenience of having my iPod and cell phone in one device, the Shures did not offer two key features that now came standard with the iPhone ear buds. Apple built into the new buds a clicker and a microphone that made answering calls while listening to music a breeze. That convenience won out for me and I found myself back at square one listening to music through the stock ear buds. But like an Economy flier who finally gets a taste of First Class, I yearned for better sound. What I needed was a solution that would allow me to enjoy the quality of the E4cs and the convenience of the mic/clicker at the same time. Enter the new Apple In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic.
The first notable difference between Apple’s original foray into the world of higher-end headphones and its latest effort is price. The original in-ear headphones sold for $39 while the new pair go for $80. The second difference is that the new headphones fit really well. Apple clearly learned from their past mistakes in this arena and I’m happy to report that the new ear buds actually stay in my ears. The clicker works as well as the stock iPhone clicker, though it is somewhat larger in order to accommodate the new volume controls which, as of the writing of this article, only work with the latest generation of iPods. In addition to allowing iPhone owners to answer calls, the mic also allows iPod Touch owners to make recordings and use Voice Over IP services from the App Store.
But what about the sound? Has this Economy flier finally made his way back to First Class? Not exactly. For the price, the quality of the new Apple headphones is hard to beat. They produce a rich sound and even provide an impressive amount of noise attenuation. Unfortunately, they can’t hold a candle to my old E4c’s. Part of this has to do with the fact that the E4c’s are in-canal headphones and so produce a better seal and superior noise isolation, but part of it is just plain old frequency response. The Apple headphones seem to have a strong emphasis on the mids and highs while the E4c’s produce more satisfying lows while maintaining an overall balanced sound. My only other criticism of the new headphones is their build quality.
Apple used the same gauge of wire that the stock buds come with and I can see them fraying after a few years of daily use. Having said that, the new Apple In-Ear headphones are a big step up from the stock buds in terms of sound quality and they come with that fantastic clicker/mic. If you have an iPhone or any of the latest generation iPods and you’re looking to improve your listening experience without spending an arm and a leg, this product offers great value. Walking around with my new headphones, I may not be back in First Class, but it sure feels like Business.