One of these days, I’m going to get it through my thick skull: resistance really is futile.
I’ve been hunting high and low for a pair of noise isolating in-ear monitors that don’t make me want to rip my ears off with vice grip pliers. Until yesterday, I was ready to throw in the towel, because no one -and I do mean NO ONE- seems to have a clue when it comes to designing incredible-sounding in-ear headphones that fit perfectly, have all the necessary features, and don’t require a mortgage application.
Trust me, I’ve tried dozens of models from all the big name manufacturers and found every single one of them lacking. For reference, here are my criteria. The perfect pair of in-ear headphones must:
- cost less than $100
- deliver flawless, balanced sound
- provide a reasonable amount of ambient noise isolation
- fit perfectly
- not pinch or stretch or in any way fatigue my dainty ear cartilage
- have a sensible Y-cable design (sorry Sony, but your asymmetrical leads are a friggin’ JOKE)
- come with some kind of convenient carrying case
- have volume, playback, and call answer/disconnect controls that work with my Samsung Galaxy S II, iPad, and MacBook Air
Only ONE manufacturer comes even close to delivering all of these features, and they would be our fine friends from Cupertino California. Yes, Apple.
Why everyone else insists on reinventing these 8 simple wheels (and subsequently delivering over-hyped, underperforming CRAP) will forever be a mystery to me. We’ve got Beats by Dr. Dre trying to reinvent cabling as ribbons, Klipsch trying to angle their oval ear tips, Sony trying every fit and cable design under the sun, V-Moda trying to slice up your antitragus with completely unnecessary chassis decor, Skull Candy thinking they can deliver all of the above AND urban status culture for under $25… the list goes on and on. Only Apple have managed to pay the necessary attention to detail that such a seemingly trivial device requires.
So, let’s see how Apple met my requirements:
- Cost less than $100 – Nailed it. At $80, Apple’s In-Ear Headphones are a bit pricier than the average headset you’re likely to pair with a smartphone ($60 heftier than Apple’s own ear buds). But spend a few hours with these babies, and you’ll know why. Decent in-ear monitors cost money, folks. They can cost as much as professional studio headphones, and some brands can even set you back more than prescription hearing aids.
- Deliver Flawless, balanced sound – again, nailed it. I like to add a little third-party EQ to my music, and these guys really deliver the bass when they have to. At the same time, they produce crisp, tantalizing highs. They sound every bit as commanding and authoritative as the AT studio cans I unfairly compare all my headphones to. I’m not going to blow any audiophile farts about “mush” or a “tight stage” to try and impress you with my snobbery -let’s just say that for what most people will be doing with these, you could do a LOT worse. They really do sound pretty sick.
- provide a reasonable amount of ambient noise isolation – Not to be confused with noise cancellation, these buds provide what I would consider the perfect amount of privacy. They easily drown out noisy coworkers or a TV, but you don’t have to pop them out every time someone tries to get your attention. And when I’m really in the zone, none of my coworkers have to know I’m rocking out to Bollywood tracks.
- fit perfectly – Hands down, the most comfortable pair I’ve tried. Feather light, no pinching, and no fatigue whatsoever. They practically disappear once you put them on. The extra tips provide a selection of fits, and the rubber material is not too soft or too rigid for long-term wear. Total Goldilocks material.
- not pinch or stretch or in any way fatigue my dainty ear cartilage – see previous item.
- have a sensible Y-cable design – perfectly symmetrical, with elegant strain relief built-in. The Y even features a sliding clip if you want to snug them up under your chin (never found much use for that, but there you are).
- come with some kind of convenient carrying case - My only complaint about Apple’s case is that it isn’t hinged, and is a little tricky to open. Other than that, it keeps them wrapped up nice and small, and prevents tangling in a laptop bag.
- have volume, playback, and call answer/disconnect controls that work with my Samsung Galaxy S II, iPad, and MacBook Air - Well, gee. They’re made by Apple, so the iPad and MacBook Air are no-brainers, but unfortunately, they won’t do everything on an Android phone (at least not my Galaxy S II). The mic works for calls, and the clicker button will answer and hang up, but the volume controls don’t do anything. That’s just an unfortunate Android shortcoming these days. There are remote headsets that provide these controls, but you typically have to install some kind of software to support them. Not the end of the world.
All told, I’m happy. And I could’ve been happy a lot sooner if I hadn’t wasted so much time trying to defy the obvious, inevitable conclusion: Apple kicks ass. Again.