Sunday, December 07, 2008

Apple In-Ear headphones hands-on

If you've outgrown the fashion appeal of Apple's stock earbuds and you're ready to step up to a proper pair of headphones, Apple's $79 In-Ear headphones are a killer upgrade. They're not going to make everyone happy, however, as some of the features included with the headphones will not work with the iPhone or older iPod models.

Out of the box, the Apple In-Ear headphones include a plastic carrying case with a cable wrap, three pairs of silicone ear tips (small, medium, and large) and a set of replacement mesh caps that come in handy when earwax inevitably builds up. The earpieces are very light, comfortable, and stylish, and the cable runs around 3.5 feet long.

Unlike Apple's standard-issue earbuds, which rest just outside the ear, the Apple In-Ear headphones are intended to fit literally in your ears, similar to wearing a pair of earplugs. The three pairs of interchangeable silicone ear tips included with the headphones ensure that the earpieces completely seal your ear canal, isolating you from ambient noise and delivering better sound quality at a lower volume. While the earplug-like sound isolation provides a quiet backdrop for music listening, we don't advise wearing them for a morning jog, or any activity requiring some awareness of your surroundings.

Because the ear tips are made from a white silicone, they will discolor more quickly than the black and gray ear tips we're used to seeing from brands like Shure and Etymotic. In fact, if you've ever used a pair of Apple earbuds, you know that the all-white cable and earpiece design also tends to show dirt sooner than later.

Product summary

The good:
The Apple In-Ear headphones offer great sound, stylish design, comfortable ear tips, a one-year warranty, a spare set of mesh caps, and an in-line microphone with an iPod remote control.

The badThe bad: The all-white design will show wear over time, iPhone users can't take advantage of the headphone's in-line volume control, and owners of older iPods have no use for the remote and microphone.

The bottom lineThe bottom line: If you own a new iPod, the Apple In-Ear headphones are a great value. Owners of iPhones and older iPods will have to decide whether the mic and remote compatibility issues are worth overlooking for the substantial boost in sound quality.

Specifications: Product type: Headset; Design: In-ear ear-bud; Weight: 0.4 oz


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