Apple EarPods [Review]

Along with the introduction of the iPhone 5 this past Wednesday, Apple also announced the replacement for the iconic earphones that have accompanied their iPod and iPhone products for over a decade, the new EarPods.

The main complaint about the original earphones were that they often didn’t fit well, they fell out a lot, and didn’t produce particularly good sound. In order to address these issues, Apple claims that “Apple’s Industrial Design team tested 124 different prototypes of the EarPods on over 600 people”, while using a “target sound of a person sitting in a room listening to high-quality speakers” to produce a better sounding, more stable set of headphones with a better fit.

Sporting a radically different look from the original earphones and designed over a period of 3 years, Apple claims that “the overall audio quality of Apple EarPods is so impressive, they rival high-end headphones that cost hundreds of dollars more.”

Considering that there are some extremely good headphones out there that fall into the “hundreds of dollars more” category, I decided to pick up a pair from my local Apple Store and test them out myself.

The $35 EarPods come packed in a clear plastic case with a smaller reusable travel case containing the EarPods themselves. The EarPods include an in-line remote control on the cable that can be used to start and stop playback, skip forward and backward, activate Siri on supported devices, etc. One thing to note is that the EarPods are not in-ear headphones that go into your outer ear canal, they are just standard headphones that rest in your outer ear much like the earphones they replace.

The shape of the EarPods is different from the round shape of the original earphones and as a result they tend to fit better. The sound is aimed into your ear canal by the new acoustic vents, resulting in better overall sound and a lower volume required in order to hear things clearly. I didn’t have problems with the EarPhones falling out while I was using them (an improvement over the originals), however they can still be pulled loose without much effort.

The sound is much improved over the originals as well. The bass is noticeably better, especially when listening to bass-heavy genres like Hip-Hop or Rap. When listening to artists like Jay-Z and Kanye West there was a significant difference in the sound the EarPods produced vs earlier models. With more vocal or acoustic music such as Mumford & Sons, the high and mid-range is more clear and defined, and much less muddy than the originals.

Due to the increased clarity of the sound, combined with improved sound direction, it is not necessary to have the volume as high when listening in quiet environments, something that people in your immediate vicinity will no doubt appreciate.

However, much like the originals, EarPods aren’t great in noisy environments and do let in a lot of ambient noise that requires increased volume to overcome.

All in all, while they do sound and fit better than the earphones they replace, I can’t agree with Apple’s assessment that EarPods “rival high-end headphones that cost hundreds of dollars more” though. While they represent a significant improvement, they simply aren’t going to give you the same audio experience as a pair of more pricy earbuds from Bose, Sennheiser, or Shure, and they don’t compare well at all once you start looking at in-ear or on-ear headphones that provide better ambient noise control, etc.

Those who purchase an iPhone 5 will get a pair of EarPods in the box and will no doubt find them an improvement over what came before. And, for those who currently use the original earphones, the $35 price for the EarPods is a reasonable price to pay for their better fit and better sound. However, if you currently use quality 3rd party headphones you’ll probably want to stick with them.

What do you think? Are a pair of EarPods something you are considering? Let us know in the comments.

 

Husband & Father. Apple, Music, Comics, Food, Travel, Wine, Tech, Space & Gadget lover. An IT generalist, X5 driver, Lost fan, and occasional Writer. Follow me on Twitter @swotam or App.net @swotam

  • Trevor Mitchell

    I’ll try them out when I get the new iphone, However, I choose to use different earbuds for 3 reasons.

    1) security – people know you have an iphone. I got one stupidly robbed from me in Edmonton (ipod).
    2) Not that good quality
    3) I have shure headphones that fit better and have much better sound quality but less bass.

  • draz

    I’ll try them out for maybe a few hours then I will go back to my Sony in-ear earbuds that I love and bought years ago. It even has an in-line remote w/ mic! One of very few in market at the time that had one.

    I hope Apple didn’t change anything with how in-line remotes work or else mine might not work =(

  • http://twitter.com/mbarriault Mike Barriault

    I currently use Apple’s in-ear headphones as my primary set. They sound great but I’m not a big fan of the pressure in the ear, and the proximity of the speaker to my ear occasionally gives me a static shock when I’m walking. I plan on seeing how the new EarPods compare when my 5 arrives, but I don’t have a proper Y adapter to give a real test.

  • Simon B

    I really didn’t expect too much of these EarPods. Ergonomically, they do look very different and might even feel very natural when they are in the ear canals. I don’t think I can say the same for the sound though since Apple really didn’t talk in specific about the speakers in them. I would assume that they are more or less the run-of-the-mill type, especially when they are free with all the new iProducts (probably not with the Shuffle).

    Guess I’ll hang on to my Image S4i for now.

  • http://www.iPhoneInCanada.ca/ Mike McCormick

    I’m with you on this review. While I’ve never used the new EarPods, I was skeptical when I heard Apple say they were as good as “high-end” pairs. I’m not surprised to hear that while they are better than the previous models, they shouldn’t be considered top-tier. It would be just too expensive for Apple to give something like that away with the iPhone.

    I own a pair of noice-cancelling third-party headphones. So while I may use these EarPods as a backup pair, I’ll still stick with the ones I got.

    I think the lesson learned here is the typical “you get what you pay for.” If you are very concerned about quality of audio, then you should be willing to shell out some coin to get top-quality stuff.

  • swotam

    Agreed, I’ll be returning them tomorrow. I was hoping they might be a good alternative to my Bose OE headphones when I’m wanting something a bit less bulky in quiet environments, but in my case the fit isn’t good enough and I keep having to poke them back into my ear canals from time to time. Mind you, I’ve always had problems with ear bud style headphones not staying in my ears very well, so it’s not an Apple-specific problem.

  • gerry

    I’ll stick with my SOL republic Amps HD for the time being. But will test out these new Earpods.

  • spam

    you have no qualified idea what you’re talking about. For starters, “Shure” Is the word you’re looking for. Not “Sure”.

  • swotam

    So a typo disqualifies the entire review eh?

    Thanks for the correction, I guess.

  • zach

    you thought they might be a good alternative to the BOSE OE? The comparison doesn’t even make sense, where one headphone sits on your ear canal while the other one covers the entire ear? These headphones are great, ten folds better than the original EarBuds, for the price range these are the best in the market by far.

  • swotam

    You’ll note I said I tried them as something I could use “when I’m wanting something a bit less bulky in quiet environments”, which would sort of mean when I don’t want to wear the OE’s. I’m not comparing the to the OE’s.

    Regardless, they don’t compare well to headphones that “cost hundreds of dollars more” no matter how you slice it. They’re good for $35, but that’s about it.

  • BMO

    Thanks for the review! I had a pair of the original apple earbuds from the iPhone 4, but unfortunately I put them through the washing machine and now the bass is all gone. I bought a pair of in-ear senheiser earbuds, but I really can’t stand how it blocks out all the ambient noise, not to the mention it’s either too snug or keeps falling out of my ear, it also doesn’t have an in-line remote so it’s kind of a pain switching between songs and picking up calls :(. I felt like the apple earbuds provide a nice balance between ambient noise and what you were listening to. Maybe it’s just me, but form a safety perspective, I liked to be able to hear a bit of what is going on around me.

    I will be picking up a pair of these new earbuds soon!

  • Prime

    I’m thinking of getting the nano with this. I like the idea of an inline remote with something I can use at work or when I need to get audio ques from my surroundings. I love my in ears and my grado but sometimes I like the ears to breathe a little.

  • yvrgal

    I just ordered a pair of Wang Buds from Fanny Wang to use with my iPhone 5. Right now, I’m just using the cheap Gummy and it still works but not the top of line sound.

  • iFone

    Did not expect much from the sound department. Glad to hear they do fit better.
    Much interested to hear how they block wind noise or other ambience noise when making a phone call…

  • http://twitter.com/mikesmoniz Michael Moniz

    Just based on sound quality for $ value,I’ll stick with V-Moda. Every pair I have sound way better than Apple buds and are a lot closer in sound quality to more expensive brands, without spending more than $100. I’m happy with them

  • xxxJDxxx

    The Klipsch Image S4 are the best headphones that I’ve ever tried for under $100. I’ve got others but I keep coming back to the Klipsch

  • swotam

    For those who are interested, here’s a link to a PDF I created containing the instructions for using the in-line remote.

    http://d.pr/f/g1cS

  • fmanowhereman

    I’ve got a pair of Klipsch S5i’s and love them but will be interested to try the Earpods

  • http://twitter.com/odumetz Olivier Dumetz

    for $35, with the in-line mic – I think apple got it right and these are very hard to beat. Just got a pair, been wearing them for a few hours now – they still feel comfortable and the fit is nice and snug.
    I’m very very impressed with the sound, especially if compared to the old apple buds.