Many iPod and iPhone owners — even the ones who don’t know what a CNET is — are quick to upgrade the flat sounding earbuds that come with most devices. Apple seemed determined to leave this legacy behind when it unveiled the new EarPods to much fanfare at its iPhone 5 event last week. So this morning, I bought a pair of stock Apple headphones, on purpose. Do these EarPods live up to Apple levels of hype?
What’s an EarPod, anyway?
EarPods are basically just earbuds, but fine-tuned. These actually aren’t in-ear headphones, as some thought they were. There’s no rubber tip, and although the shape suggests it, as the main speaker is now pointed into the ear canal. You actually don’t need to push in or otherwise adjust them the way you have to with in-ear headphones. In fact, it took me a few fruitless stabs at my ear canal with these things before I tried slipping them in like my old ‘buds. Once I’d figured that out, they sounded crystal clear right away, no fiddling.
Apple says it spent three years working on the EarPods, and its two main achievements with them are a snug, comfortable shape, and powerful bass in a small package. In those two respects, these are fantastic headphones, but that’s not the whole story.
The new shape make them the most comfortable earbuds I’ve ever worn; even after tugging at them and running up and down a few flights of stairs, I can safely say they’re much more snug-fitting than their predecessors (admittedly, those didn’t set the bar very high). Usually, I need to resort to in-ear headphones for deep bass in a small form factor, and I find those uncomfortable. However, Apple added tiny vents in the buds, which allow the bass drivers to bounce with reduced resistance. Bass tones sound natural, instead of overly heavy or distorted as in other bass-boosted earbuds.
I played music from Death Cab for Cutie for my inaugural listen. Although it was subtle, I was disappointed to encounter some distortion upon my very first listen. Some instruments in the mid-range sounded tinny, and I was sure, at first, that I had been duped into downgrading my headphones. Granted, this could just be my ears, because it’s hard to believe that Apple would release headphones with mid-range distortion after three years of development. But if you’re like me, and listen to your music too loud, and you encounter this issue, I offer two solutions:
Then, I investigated the distortion in with the help of my iTunes equalizer. It didn’t take much, but attenuating the 2 kHz range (where the guitar solo of The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry lives) did the trick for me. So if you like your music super loud and encounter the same issue, you might try that — or, you could mess around with the equalizer of your iOS Music app (though it won’t help you with third-party apps).
Though these Kenny-shaped EarPods are new, their cord and plug are identical to Apple’s old earbuds. Based on my track record with Apple headphones, I can count on these to come apart at the plug by Christmas.
So are they any good?
The EarPods received red carpet treatment at this week’s Apple event. They even have their own promo video (see above), in which legendary Apple designer Jony Ives himself describes how they achieved the pinnacle of earbud engineering. However, these are not the iPhone of earbuds, as you might expect, given their $29 price and the fact that they’ll be included with all iPhones and iPod Touches going forward.
In the future, new iPod owners might not be quick to throw away their comfy new EarPods, because they’re a big improvement over the previous Apple earbuds. They sound pretty good, even compared to some of the nicer headphones lying around the office, and they clearly blow other $30 earbuds out of the water. So there’s that.
However, Apple’s choice not to upgrade the plug and cord design alone makes the EarPods a poor choice for replacement headphones, in my opinion. One day isn’t much time to evaluate a product’s sturdiness, but other headphone manufacturers are already leaps and bounds ahead of Apple in build quality, and I’ve seen what happened to the plug and cord on my previous Apple earbuds.
In short, enjoy your new EarPods if you buy a new iPod. But if you’re in the market for new headphones, and you too have experienced the problem of Apple earbuds coming apart at the plug, I would recommend looking for something with a more resilient design.
(Thumbnail image borrowed from Mashable.)