Price: $60 online
Price: $80 to $100 online
Company: Jays of Sweden
Devon Gilbert assisted with this review
The most visible difference between these two new affordable in-ear headphones from Jays of Sweden is the cables. One is flat and wide, and the other is skinny and round. Closer inspection reveals speaker driver housing design variations. One is small and round, and the other is squared-off and chunky. Both models ship with identical accessories and superb packaging, to be described several paragraphs below. Here is a photo, after the cases have been opened.
By guest reviewer Devon Gilbert and John “Nemo” Nemerovski
Devon and Nemo spent hours listening, evaluating, and comparing these three innovative, affordable headphones with microphones, or headsets, if you prefer the term. We will first describe them one at a time before we rate or rank them.
Arctic Cooling P531 headset, Arctic Cooling M571 mouse
Company: Arctic Cooling
Price: headphones $66.55, mouse $29.95
The Arctic Cooling P531 headset and M571 mouse are both designed for gamers, the aim being to support features common to modern games at a price only somewhat above that of generic headsets and mice. Starting with the Arctic Cooling P531 headset, this includes headphones, a microphone, and a controller that provides on-the-fly adjustment of 5.1-channel surround-sound output. The headphones have soft fabric ear cups and flexible connections to the headband, and the microphone is mounted on a flexible arm that can be folded out of the way when not in use.
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Arctic Sound P311 Bluetooth Headphones
Company: Arctic Cooling
Price: $37.95 US
Our listening and evaluation team for these headphones included Devon (age 22), Mike (age 51), and Jackie (age 70+). Each panel member tested Arctic’s new behind-head Bluetooth headphones using a different model of smartphone, plus an iPad. We agreed that wireless P311 provides exceptional value for most music and phone situations.
These folding headphones are packaged with a rugged, stylish zippered carrying case and a USB charging cable. Experienced Bluetooth users will have no problem with the brief instructions. If you are confused by the diagrams on this two page manual, ask a tech-savvy young friend or family member to help you understand it.
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v-JAYS over-ear lightweight clear-bass folding headphones
Company: JAYS (of Sweden)
Price: $98 US (not available until approximately November, 2010)http://www.jays.se/products/headphones/v-jays.html
Martin Taylor enjoys listening to music. But he doesn’t like headphones, any of them, because “they always color the sound in a way that is unnatural.” I asked him to help test the new v-JAYS from Sweden. He was impressed. (He is a MyMac reviewer, The Other Martin Taylor, not the famous jazz guitarist although our Martin does play a Taylor guitar. He also owns a Martin.)
“Bass is very strong and clear, Nemo,” he said. “Much more than I’ve heard before. These must be expensive headphones.” Not especially, I told him. They are priced under $100.
What about design, construction, and fit? “Really lightweight and comfortable,” said Martin. “I could sit and listen with them all day, both for pleasure and at work. The folding earpieces aren’t essential, but they’ll help with packing and travel. Is there a case provided?” No, I told him.
Price: $147 on Amazon
The Sennheiser PX210BT earphones are a comfortable against-the-ear headset designed to be used wirelessly with any newer Bluetooth compatible device. They also come with a USB cable that can be plugged into an external power source or computer output so that when the built- in rechargeable battery is low or exhausted you can still listen to music as you would with any other set of wired earphones. If you’re going to use them with an iPhone, keep in mind they do not come with a microphone.
I’ve tried many different earphones but none that were Bluetooth enabled. I’ve been told that on some Bluetooth headphones the sound quality can be weak or inconsistent, but this is decidedly not the case with the PX210BT headphones. The sound is clear, distortion-free, and lifelike. The Sennheisers have a wonderful mid and upper range and are free of the thundering bass that makes you feel like you’re trapped in the percussion section of a 110-piece orchestra. Which is not to say that the bass is anemic. It is not. It is simply well-balanced, which makes the listening experience infinitely more satisfying.
I compared them with an older set of Sony against-the-ear earphones that I’ve had for many years and the difference was striking. The Sonys had a deeper bass that bled through every other tone, creating an indiscriminate muffling effect. The sound on the Sonys was so muffled by the bass boost I felt like I was listening under a pillow. Switching to the Sennheisers, by contrast, was like listening to a finely tuned piano that produced music that was crisp and precise.
The headband and earcups on the PX210BT headphones are nicely cushioned and comfortable enough to be worn for extended periods of time without wearing you out. Controls on the right earcup allow you to increase or decease the volume whether you’re using them wirelessly or connected to the computer, but only in Bluetooth do you have the added functionality of being able to change tracks.
There are several positive features about these earphones. The setup was simple. I went to System Preferences, clicked on the Bluetooth icon and OS X quickly discovered the Sennheisers and paired with them. After that, any time I wanted to use the phones wirelessly I just powered them on by pressing the middle of the right earcup. A message would appear on my iMac’s screen asking if I wanted to use the Sennheiser headphones. Click on yes and off you go.
In order for this to work as effortlessly as I’ve described, the included lithium battery must be fully charged. The battery will last for up to 10 hours, so to be really useful I found it best to plug mine into a USB port and let it recharge whenever it’s not in use. A full recharge takes three hours.
This is the first set of Bluetooth earphones I’ve tried, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed being free of any wires. The wireless range of 30 feet isn’t exactly enormous, but it’s decent enough if you’re just using them in your office or a short distance from your home computer.
I found them particularly convenient when playing my midi-controller. Usually I would plug my earphones into my monitor speakers and spare my wife the pain of listening to me practicing piano, but it was always a little distracting having the earphone wire dangling nearby. The Bluetooth earphones eliminated that annoyance, but keep in mind that for this to work the battery in the earphones must be fully charged. If you start playing on your keyboard and the music sounds dizzy, the reason is a weak battery. Recharge the battery and before you know it you’ll be sounding like Keith Jarrett again.
The PX210BT headphones are lightweight and collapsible. They fold into a small pouch and can easily be be used when traveling. A nice inclusion is four different AC wall plug adapters, for international usage and travel charging.
In-ear Headphone review of:
Thinksound Rain 9mm high definition headphone
Arctic Sound E 352 earbuds
Arctic Sound E 351 earbuds
If you’re in the market for earphones, repeat after me:
"I will trust my own ears."
"I will find out what the seller’s return policy is."
These warnings are not to be taken lightly. Many companies selling earphones or earbuds will tell you their products have a frequency response of such-and-such and impedance of X number of ohms, and so on. The numbers will vary by manufacturer. Remember that what’s important is that if you’re like most consumers, you have no idea what all the electronic specifications mean. If you ask a sales rep, they may tell you the numbers mean the sound will be lean and forward and they’ll provide good performance across a wide range. On rare occasions they actually know what they’re talking about.
The only meaningful test of good earphones, however, is how they feel in your ears and how they sound. That’s why you want to buy from a place with a liberal return policy. If you haven’t damaged the product and it’s simply a matter of discovering that the audio quality is not to your liking, you ought to be able to return it without any hassles.
You should also remind yourself what types of music you listen to most often. As you will read below, earphones that are fine for one type of music may perform poorly with other types of music. A knowledgeable sales rep can tell you which earphones may be best for you if you let him or her know what your preferences are. I wouldn’t place much confidence in the marketing hype that appears on the product’s package. And don’t be swayed by the non-sound related trinkets such as the attractive carrying cases that come with both Arctic Sound earphones reviewed below. I often store earbuds in a Ziploc bag and am yet to damage anything.
The points I’ve made above are best illustrated in the three earphones discussed below. Readers should also keep in mind that at the recommended retail prices of these products, you can find numerous other earphones that are at least as good and sometimes far superior to those discussed in these reviews. Like most earphones, all of these can be used with an iPhone or Blackberry. Only one of these sets, the Arctic Sound 351 earbuds, comes with a built in microphone.
Thinksound Rain 9mm high definition headphone
These attractive earbuds, the best of the three products under consideration, are very comfortable and reproduce music with remarkable clarity. After listening to them for a few days, I was impressed by their purity and balance across the full spectrum.
I don’t believe they’ll please those who like the kind of bass that makes your car vibrate, but for almost every other kind of music I found voices and instruments as faithfully projected as though I were listening to a pair of high end Polk speakers. This is not intended to suggest that the bass is tepid or that the overall sound is tinny. Just the opposite is true. The bass is present but it’s clean. You won’t need to fiddle with an equalizer to make it palatable.
At the other end of the spectrum, the highs are so sweet that I found myself describing them to others with a word I never use: charming.
People who listen to classical voice recordings find themselves looking forward to specific features in the score. For example, they will anticipate and listen for the high B flat in a famous tenor aria from Puccini’s La Boheme, two high Ds back to back from Verdi’s Rigoletto, a string of punishing high Cs from Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment. With the wrong earbuds, these notes can be absolutely painful to hear. Not with Rain. All of these notes came through crisp and with a ringing clarity but with no edges, very similar to how you would hear them from an orchestra seat in the concert hall.
I listen to a wide variety of genres but spend most of my time with the classical music I grew up with. If I’m listening to a piece by Mozart or Brahms, the chances are good that I’ve heard it performed by at least 20 different orchestras or ensembles, and yet with these Rain earbuds I found a whole new way to appreciate the music.
For those who care about appearances, these earbuds will not disappoint. The design is understated and classy. The drivers are enclosed in a handsome 9mm wood chassis attached to silver tips, and you’ll find three extra sets of silicon tips in the box along with a homely sack made from some kind recyclable material. All I really cared about was the sound.
Though the MSRP is $99, the Thinksound Rain earbuds are selling on Amazon for $59.
Thinksound reports that users are finding that the quality of the sound improves after a 24-48 hour break-in period, which definitely coincided with my experience. If you want all the technical details about frequency response and so forth, go the company’s website, at http://thinksound.com. Otherwise, just get a pair and give your brain a few days to adjust to a new experience in listening pleasure.
Arctic Sound E 352 earbuds
The big selling point for these earphones, at least from the company’s standpoint, is that the drivers are encased in wood. The wood looks nice and supposedly enhances the bass response, a claim I could not substantiate after listening to a wide variety of music.
The earbuds have no Left and Right markings and no explanation for that lack in the packaging. I contacted a representative who said there is no Left and Right because both sides produce identical sound. One sentence on the package would have cleared up that mystery. [Editor’s note: "identical sound" still confuses the situation. We’ll try to obtain a better reason.]
I found these earbuds physically and aurally uncomfortable after an hour or less. They produce clean, lifelike reproduction of some music in the mid-range, which is to say most popular music, jazz, rap and similar categories. They are not appropriate for symphonic music, opera or any music that covers a broad spectrum of sound. They are generally well-defined but unexceptional in the middle of the register but fall apart as the music becomes more complex or stretches to the higher end of the staff. They’re not absolutely horrible but the lack of refinement in the high notes is noticeable enough to be annoying.
I also gave them to an adult friend who listens to Hip Hop and similar styles of music. Her reaction? "I like my $20 earphones better."
I tried these earbuds with each of the three different sized included silicon tips to see if the sound improved with a better seal in the ear canal. Sensitivity in the middle and lower registers did indeed improve slightly but not in the upper. In short, the E 352 earbuds are probably fine for computer games and popular music, but not a great choice for symphonic or operatic music.
Arctic Sound E351-WM (with microphone)
The 351 earphones cost about a third less than the 352s, so it should come as no surprise that they don’t sound as good. But in this case it’s a matter of splitting hairs. The more expensive 352 earphones were one-third higher in price, but most of the time there was no proportional improvement in sound. In some cases, however, the 351s seemed to suck the oxygen out of a performance and the difference between the two products was definitely noticeable.
In place of the wood barrels in the 352s, the 351s have large driver coils encased in an attractive aluminum chassis. They come with an integrated microphone so you can plug them into an iPhone, put the phone aside and talk hands free. Like the more expensive model, the 351 comes with three sets of different sized soft tips for noise cancellation and better sound.
Both are best when processing notes an octave above or below middle C. After that, results are mixed, though the 351 is even scratchier at the upper end than the buds with the wood chassis. On the plus side, the cord on the cheaper earphones if about three inches longer than the others, making it slightly easier to use when connected to a computer.
There was no "Aha!" moment with either of these earphones.
Thinksound Rain — MyMac Review Rating: 8 out of 10
Arctic Sound E352 — MyMac Review Rating: 3 out of 10
Arctic Sound E351 WM — MyMac Review Rating: 2 out of 10
GR8 In-Ear Headphones
Company: Grado Labs
There are two ways to evaluate in-ear headphones. The first is to remove them from their package, stick them in your ears, listen to your favorite music, and decide how they feel and sound, relative to a fair cost. The second is to do all the above, plus a thorough, evaluative comparison with other models in the same price range.
The latter is tricky, because of differences between manufacturer and Internet pricing, and because each brand and model of headphones has its own fit and audio characteristics that affect the listener experience. Hearing the same recordings with different headphones can disorient the reviewer, depending upon the testing sequence.
It’s impossible to become jaded listening to different in-ear headphones in the $299+ price range, because each in its own way is stellar. Aside from ambient noise isolation and ear cavity comfort, both of which are somewhat determined by the physical characteristics of the user’s physiology, all super premium ($250 and up) in-ear headphones sound terrific most of the time.
Last week, we interviewed Lee Givens from America Online. He was so much fun to talk to, Lee returns as a co-host this week with Tim, Owen, and David to chat about older Macs, AppleTV, headphones, iTunes passing Best Buy in music sales, the future of broadband, and much more. John Nemo returns with Part Two of his AppleCare Switcher interview. A good resolution? Listen to find out.
As always, we welcome your feedback! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our messaging number at 1-801-938-5559 so we can play you on the show.
Skullcandy FMJ iPhone earbuds/microphone
Skullcandy; now there’s a naming success. Skullcandy’s a little company that markets a wide selection of headphones, earbuds, and accessories. I’ve never had any trouble remembering this firm’s name! Skullcandy’s target audience is the skater/hiphop crowd, but don’t let that (or their too-cool-for-school website design) drive you away, even if you lean more to the fuddy-duddy side of the spectrum.
Skullcandy sent the Weeks Division of MyMac Labs review sample of their iPhone FMJ earbuds/microphone. FMJ stand for “Full Metal Jacket.” I wonder if the marketing people have seen the 1987 Stanley Kubrick film titled with this expression.
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After playing around with cheap headphones I came to the conclusion that many do with devices like this; you get what you pay for. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a decent set of headphones without spending a fortune though. Case in point, the Sennheiser EH 150 headphones. For less than 50 bucks, you get a pleasant sounding, easy to wear, and quite comfortable set of headphones that while you might not want to use them exclusively with a high-dollar audio setup, they work great with your laptop or portable media player.
The well-cushioned padding will fit around most ears and allow for some pretty decent noise cancellation as well for those who spend a lot of time say on planes or trains. They are light, but don’t fold so whatever manner you transport them in, make sure there’s enough room to store them out of the way while not in use.
Pluses: Comfortable, decent sound, light, good noise reduction
Minuses: Doesn’t fold, so you need some space to carry them