Last week I’ve been complaining about the capped volume on the iPod nano and the inability to circumvent it. At the end of that very week, the iPod earbuds solved the problem for me by breaking down. The rubber rings started comming off, and the right speaker produced only 10% of the sound the left speaker was producing.
I decided that this was enough reason to go looking for a nice set of in-ear headphones (earbuds) which would sound nice, and also improve on produced volume.
After reading some reviews on in-ear headphones ranging from €40,- to €140,- I decided on the Apple in-ear headphones. Judging from reviews, these should compare to Sony Fontopia’s, seal of surrounding noise and produce more sound. I payed the €40,- (that’s $58,- at the current Dollar-to-Euro rate) and plugged them into the ipod, and my ears. Although I have pretty standard ears, I couldn’t get the Apple earbuds to fit comfortably. Apple provides 3 different size caps, of which the middle size was the least uncomfortable, and sealed off my ear properly. You can tell this by the pressure you feel in your ear when inserting the buds. The pressure will slowly go away.
The first thing I noticed is that by sealing off your earcanal, you can hear everything going on with the cords to the earbuds. Move your head, and you hear the cord move accross your clothes at a pretty uncomfortable volume. When playing music, don’t move. The cord movement sounds will sometimes be louder than the music.
Sitting perfectly still and trying to judge the sound quality, I found that the Apple ear-buds are actually not good at all. Yes they provide lots of bass (which is a measure of quality nowadays I guess) but everything else is lacking. They sound flat, and miss the sharpness I expect from expensive earbuds. They are absolutely sounding worse than the standard earbuds that came with the iPod. If I had too choose between the two, I’d go for the standard iPod earphones in stead of the more expensive ear-buds.
The problem with headphones in general and in-ear headphones in particular, is that you can’t return them, because they can’t be sold as new after you’ve jammed them in your ears. For that same reason I’m probably not going to sell them second hand, making these buds one of the more expensive pieces of trash in my bin.
Last weekend I passed through a hardware store to buy a new harddrive for my fileserver. Next to the cash register I found a pair of Sony MDR-E818LP earphones for about €10,-. I bought them so that I could at least listen to music until I found a set of decent earphones.
And guess what? These sound great! They’ve got too much bass (probably a fashion thing), but that can be cured with the “less bass” setting on the iPod. By doing that, these earphones are the right thing for your iPod, at the right price. The sound is clear and crisp, and these buds produce a LOT more sound than the Apple ones. They don’t seal off your ear, which I’ve come to beleive is a good thing, because of the cord-sound I described above. They come with a set of soft cushions which make for a comfortable fit, and I can wear them for hours at an end without getting sore ears.
To get some of the €40,- spent on the Apple ear-buds back, I am using the Apple ear-bud carying case to store the Sony earphones in. The Sony’s are worth it. 🙂
Ofcourse this isn’t the best set of earphones I’ve ever had. The old Sony fontopids that came with the first walkmans were absolutely the best in-ear headphones I’ve ever had. Comfortable fit, supple silicone cords, with red and blue stripes on the earpieces to mark right and left, but other than that perfectly symmetrical. Too bad they don’t make those anymore.
The absolute best set of earphones I’ve ever had, and in fact still own after some odd 20 years, is a set of Sony MDR-CD770 Digital Reference earphones. They (still) sound amazing, you feel like you can point out the location of every instrument in the band you’re listening too, like they were in the room.
The only problem with these are that they are big, expensive, and fragile. You won’t be taking these with you when you’re on vacation. They wouldn’t survive the suitcase, and they’re impossible when you are trying to lay your head down to sleep while listening to good music. Even if you did, you’d never wake up again, being strangled by the many meters of audio cable dangling off of your left ear.
But if you’re sitting at home on the couch, these will beat the * out of any soundsystem anyday, without annoying the neighbours. You’ll be amazed at how good a high-bitrate AAC track sounds comming out of your iPod.