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.