Apple may overwhelm the MP3 market, but the stock earbuds included with iPhones and iPods have always been a frowning point for those devices. It's the buds! They're like cheap diapers: sound leaks all over the place, they're uncomfortable and achy, and, for the most part, you can (and should) toss 'em.
Weeks ago I would have recommended that iPod users buy a new set of headphones, but, thanks to a product called yurbuds, there's a very solid middle option now.
Billed as "custom-sized earbud enhancers", yurbuds are silicone tips that slip over your iPod earbuds and help them sit in your ear more comfortably. An added benefit is that they make listening with in-ear buds much better by reducing the amount of volume you need to hear your music and by improving the way the audio is delivered to your ear.
Yurtopia was kind enough to lend us a few pairs when we met them last month, and since then, my primary headphones have been a pair of white buds covered with a set of size 6 yurbuds.
How do they work?
Yurbuds come in five different sizes (ranged 5-10), but only one color for now, and you can get a pair for 20 bucks at some Best Buy stores or at yurbuds.com. If you buy them online, you can send a picture of your ear for yurbud fitting. Yurtopia, the company behind the product, plans to launch an iPhone app that can gauge your yurbuds size from a picture of your ear snapped on the device. The app won't be ready until January, but, in the meantime, the company believes that the two sizes on sale at Best Buy - 5 and 7 - will accommodate most people.
If you don't have any earbuds of your own, you can buy a set of yurbuds bundled with Yurtopia's Apple-like white earbuds for $30. For $10, you can also purchase a gaggle of adapters for earbuds from other companies like Skull Candy and Sony. More on that later.
Why yurbuds are smart products.
Yurbuds tackle the wedge-out issue most in-ear headphones face. Once they're in place, these buds don't budge, and because the slip-ons are designed to rest over your ear rather than sitting inside your ear, they cause little to no discomfort. I've worn them every workday for at least three hours over three weeks and haven't heard a peep of pain from my satellites.
They make listening to music better too. iPod earbuds tend to be leaky buckets, but with yurbuds on them, I noticed less sound spill. That means less audio floated away from my ear, and more stayed in it. Spoon sounded flush at about 40% in a quiet room and I didn't have to crank "My Mathematical Mind" to 85% - which is what I had to do without the yurbud covers - to get a comfortable level in our office.
Of course bud covers have no effect on audio quality, but because they feed the audio into your ear canal (thanks to an an elongation at the end of the bud that rests inside your ear), you can hear the music better, and that makes a very significant difference in how much I enjoy listening to my MP3 player.
What you may not like about yurbuds.
It's not all solo-dance parties and sing-alongs. Though cleanable with water and soap, the silicone material gets dusty and waxy pretty fast and, at one point, I pulled my headphones out of my bag to find the right earbud was missing its yurbud cover. You can purchase two sets of same-size yurbuds for $30 in case that happens to you, but you'll want to be wary of similar slips regardless.
If you want to try Yurbuds on non-Apple earbuds, Yurtopia sells a yurbuds package that includes a bundle of adapters built to work with some Sony, Skull Candy, Shure, Bose, and Phillips wired headsets, as well as Bluetooth headsets from Motorola, JawBone, Plantronics and BlueAnt. That package costs $25, or you can spend $10 for the adapters alone. My colleague, Meghan, managed to get the yurbuds atop her favorite headphones, the Ultimate Ears 700, using the kit of adapters, but there's no guarantee that the covers will fit all devices. Check the yurbuds website for a complete list "works with" list.
Music listeners of all degrees of snobbery will find yurbuds handy. For audiophiles, buying a pair lets you use that set of second-rate earbuds as a backup in case your Bose Quiet Comforts crap out on you. Gymrats and runners who stop every ten minutes to push their loosening buds back into their ears can focus on their workouts, and casual listeners will enjoy the boost in audio deliverability and volume, minus the subsequent damage to their hearing.
We do wish that there was wider adapter support so we could use yurbuds with any in-ear headset, regardless of company or manufacturer, but Yurtopia's a growing institution, so that's a middling complaint. All in all, if you want above-board audio quality from inexpensive headphones that are limitlessly wearable, go buy a pair now.