If you buy an iPhone 5 or any current-model iPod, it will come with Apple's new EarPods, which were three years in the making and carry some major design improvements over existing Apple earbuds. And if you have an older Apple device, the $29 EarPods are a worthy upgrade from your current Apple gear. While they can't compete with noise-isolating canalphones, they are an excellent budget choice for general use.
[Editor's Note: This review originally appeared on TechNewsDaily, a sister site to Laptopmag.com.]
Click to EnlargeLooking like two ships out of "Star Wars," the EarPods have angled ports so the sound shoots directly into your ear canal. Four slots on each ‘pod let air move out of the hard plastic shell when the tiny speaker moves, creating acoustic resonances that boost the bass and widen the overall sound image. The speakers themselves have been redesigned with materials of varying flexibility, making them more efficient than regular earbud speakers.
The oblong earpods fit a little more securely than circular earbuds: Using 3D models of lots of different ears, Apple arrived at a shape that had something in common with most of them. The EarPods are also very lightweight, and despite being made of hard plastic, they didn't cause discomfort even after watching back-to-back episodes of "Breaking Bad." (A colleague noted discomfort after an hour of use, however.) Apple also claims that the pods are more resistant to moisture from sweat than were the previous ‘buds.
Click to EnlargeThe iPhone version of the EarPods now has a larger inline three-button mic/controller that's noticeably easier to navigate than was the older one, while iPods come with mic-less EarPods. Inline controls remain the same, with buttons or button combinations for play/pause, answer/end call, track skip, volume up and down, and activate Siri.
Arguably the best thing about the EarPods is that they don't have the previous model's rubber edges that disintegrate quickly if you keep them in your pants pocket. Our only complaint about the design is that the wires get just as tangled as before. Weighted cords would be better, but we suppose they would add to the cost.
The EarPods' funky design does let in plenty of ambient noise, but they've got more than enough power to drown out the din indoors or out. In our tests, Bob Marley's "Exodus" and Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know" both throbbed with beefy bass, not exaggerated as happens with rapper cans (Beats by Dre, for example), but powerful. Acoustic jazz (John Coltrane's "Blue Train") sounded a little too bass-heavy, as if it were on the "live" setting of a stereo system. But overall sound has much more impact than you'd expect from earbuds, period. And the level of midrange detail is very good for phones at this price.
Voice quality via the mic is virtually indistinguishable from the previous version -- which is to say, pretty good. Note that the inline mic/controller works only with Apple devices; Android users should look elsewhere.
Folks who buy a new iPhone or iPod may find that they don't have to upgrade to better headphones. And if you're simply looking for inexpensive, comfy, durable headphones for any Apple device, the $29 EarPods are a good choice.