iPod Earphone Comparison Review
At Macworld Expo 2007 San Francisco recently, I was given in-ear headphones (or earphones, or earbuds) to evaluate by two different companies, two sets per company. In ascending order of price, they are:
ezGear ezEars SX50
(available in black or white)
ezGear ultraEars SX70
(available in black or white)
v-moda bass fréq
Price: $50 US
(eight colors are available)
Price: $101 US
(available in silver or black)
In design, construction, and packaging, the first three are more similar than different. Audio is individually distinct on these lower-priced rubberized earphones. The $40 and $50 models sound better than the $20 unit, but not necessarily proportional to the price differences. The $101 v-moda vibe has higher-quality metal cables and speaker enclosures, plus superior audio characteristics. With best-in-group manufacturing and materials, does v-moda vibe get our highest score?
We considered fit and accessories for previous premium in-ear headphone reviews here at MyMac.com, in addition to comfort and audio. This time there are no special accessories. Each of these four packages comes with multiple round-blob-style ear inserts in different sizes, so fit should not be a major factor.
For help evaluating these non-audiophile consumer headphones, my test panel included typical iPod listeners who can afford any of our four earphones, and who place value on value. I did a quadruple-blind series of listening comparisons, where my helpers had no idea of the brand, cost, and supposed quality of earbuds, during multiple sessions.
Everyone chose comfort over audio quality. Once they knew the relative prices, most people said they would rather pay less than more, given how similar is the audio on the comfortable units. I disagreed, having extensive experience testing and listening through premium in-ear headphones. But I’m much more of an audiophile than is anybody in my test group.
After all testing was completed, the comparison grid and accompanying notes were conclusive.
• Most expensive v-moda vibe has superior audio performance, but its larger metal speaker enclosures make for a clumsy or uncomfortable fit for some people. Nobody gave it highest ratings, and when they learned it was the most costly, everyone rejected it.
• Least expensive ezGear ezEars SX50 has exceptional value, and decent sound. I used a pair for two continuous hours in the Media Room at Moscone Center, with a lot of commotion nearby. Audio and comfort are acceptable. Listeners on a tight budget should consider these earphones.
• Mid-priced v-moda bass fréq were least comfortable with too much treble for my ears, but my panel liked them second-best overall. The v-moda company gets high marks for having eight colors available. Our trial unit is the same color green as my car, my hat, my backpack, and my dog’s favorite Grinch toy.
• Best rating overall goes to $40 ezGear ultraEars SX70, with only one test listener not approving of its audio. This model is also my personal sound quality favorite from the group, once the less-than-comfy v-moda vibe is ruled out.
Jason from v-moda told MyMac.com that his earphones are now the best-selling ones at Apple’s retail stores. Without confirming this claim, I expect the diverse color scheme of mid-priced bass fréq is a selling point, along with the promise inherent in its unusual name.
MyMac.com recommends these four earbuds, each in a somewhat different way:
RATED 3 OUT OF 5, ezGear ezEars SX50 for $20 is inexpensive with decent audio and comfort.
RATED 3.5 OUT of 5, v-moda vibe for $101 delivers very good audio and construction, with fit and comfort that are too unpredictable for a worldwide recommendation.
RATED 3.75 AND 4 OUT OF 5, v-moda bass fréq for $50 and ezGear ultraEars SX70 for $40 are recommended for typical consumers who want pretty good sound and comfort for modest price.
Wherever you buy your earphones, determine in advance you can return or exchange them if your opinion differs from ours at MyMac.com. Objectivity is impossible when doing earbud comparisons. What sounds good and feels good to you is all that matters, regardless of the price tag or promotional material. Hearing is believing.
Additional comments from panel members:
“I don’t care how much they cost or what the specs say, because if they don’t fit my ears I’ll never use them.”
“Once I’m listening to any decent earphones for a while, my brain accepts the sound as authentic, so I’ll always choose the least expensive ones that are any good at all.”
“Volume is important too. Some of these are louder than others at the same iPod slider setting, so make sure you adjust the actual hearing level before making any decisions.”
“Give me two pairs for $20 over one for $40 any day of the week.”
“I tried your $300 premium buds, Nemo, and they are by far the most uncomfortable.”
“The ones made of metal have a funny smell, but they sound good enough.”
“The $101 unit has a clearer sound, but they don’t fit securely. They hang out from my ears, instead of tucking inside.”
“Too much bass in the least expensive earphones.”
Shipping and handling are free from v-moda online to the United States, and only $5 to any other country in the world. You pay for shipping from ezGear, bringing the potential actual cost of their $40 headphones closer to the price of v-moda’s $50 bass fréq. MyMac.com considers this $40 – $50 price spread to be insignificant.