A few weeks ago, the control dongle on my EarPods stopped working. Then, yesterday, the right earbud wouldn’t play any sound, quickly followed by the left. I can’t go without earphones, so I quickly placed an order on Amazon.com for replacements. Then I remembered I’ve had these EarPods for less than a year (they came with my iPhone 5). I wondered, shouldn’t Apple cover these with the iPhone’s warranty? Yes, the EarPods that come with your iPhone are covered by your iPhone’s 1-year warranty, along with everything else in the box. So, I canceled my Amazon order, made an appointment at the Genius Bar at the local Apple Store. Once there, the Apple Genius quickly gave me a new pair of EarPods after taking my iPhone 5’s serial number to confirm the warranty.
Note, however, that your iPhone’s warranty does not cover damage, so if your dog has chewed up your EarPods, you likely won’t get a new pair. But except in those extreme cases, you will get a new pair of EarPods as long as there isn’t any visible damage. For example, I’m pretty sure my EarPods stopped working through some kind of damage I did to them—I’ve gone on long sweaty runs with them on, I shove them in my pocket, and generally use them and abuse them everyday—but since there was no visual damage to the EarPods, the Apple Genius quickly swapped me out a new pair.
What if the EarPods break outside of the iPhone’s 1-year warranty? Well, Amazon often sells them $5 cheaper than Apple does.
Art of the iPhone’s Rating: ★★☆☆☆
(2 stars out of 5)
Review Summary: The iPhone-compatible RHA MA450i are packaged like premium earphones with 7 different sized sets of eartips, a gold-plated jack, and an extra-long, fabric-covered, reinforced copper cord. Too bad sound quality doesn’t match up with the rest, with weak performance across the sound spectrum, and excessive cord noise ruining the listening experience.
Reviewed by: Art of the iPhone
When Apple introduced their excellent new earphones, the $29 EarPods, in 2012, they changed the dynamics of the iPhone earphone market. The EarPods sound so good for their price point, affordable earphone makers must find another way to compete. Premium build quality, comfort, and lots of accessories could be one way, and the RHA MA450i ($49.95) seem to follow that strategy, with seven(!) sizes of eartips to help find the perfect fit, an extra-long fabric-wrapped, reinforced copper cables, and gold-plated plugs—all at an affordable price point. The premium build quality and accessories of the MA450i’s seems like an incredible value…until you get to the sound quality, which disappointedly doesn’t match up with the rest.
As with all earphones, everything starts and ends with sound quality, and here the MA450i are severely lacking. They earphones produce a weak, thin sound across the sound spectrum, and the quality becomes harsh and unpleasantly sharp when the volume is cranked to compensate—there is nothing warm about the sound of these earphones. The MA450i’s advertise themselves as delivering “full bass,” but in fact, the bass performance is quite poor. In multiple hip hop songs I tested, there was almost no “thump” to the bass drums, and the overall bass wasn’t rounded. For songs in the rock music genre, power chords had no chunkiness. With Apple’s $29 EarPods, you’ll feel bass in your ear as well as hear it, with the MA450’s, you’ll barely even register it. This is less true when the iPhone’s equalization is changed to a bass heavy setting (which can be done in the iPhone Settings under the Music app), but even then, the bass performance is barely adequate, and the rest of the sound spectrum suffers for it.
The MA450i’s also lack the ability to deliver decent mid to high-range detail. With acoustic music, the intricate details that make the genre so human and pleasant sounding (the click of pressed piano keys, the chunk and reverberation of a plucked acoustic guitar string, etc) are completely lost with the MA450i’s. In describing the sound quality, I don’t want to go too far into the negative here, as the MA450i’s aren’t the worst sounding earphones I’ve heard—they are adequate enough for podcasts, audiobooks, and other audio, but you will not receive fully rounded sound quality, and it’s most noticeable with music, where performance is poorest.
The MA450i’s go out of their way to make sure you get the right size eartip, as 7 different sizes of silicone eartips are included, including one double-flanged set, which I found to be the most comfortable and best performing. The eartips come in a small plastic box, with each eartip getting its own slot, which makes it easy to pick out just the right size. Also included is a small cloth pouch for storing your earphones in.
The construction of the earphones is good and has a general feel of quality. Most impressive to me was the fabric-wrapped cord, which I found to be durable (the copper inside is reinforced) and good looking. The cord is extra long, being 59 inches (5 feet) in length (for comparison, Apple’s EarPods are about 3 feet in length). However, I did notice a lot of “cord noise,” meaning when the cord rubs against my shirt or jacket, I can hear it directly in my ear. It’s actually quite loud and can ruin a listening experience, especially when you’re doing an activity. I’ve experienced this in cheaper earphones as well, and it’s disappointing to find in the MA450i’s.
The earphones do come with an iPhone-compatible, three-button dongle, with volume controls, play/pause, call answer/decline, etc, functionality—basically, everything the default Apple earphones can do. While I like the smooth feel and slick looks of the MA450i’s dongle, I found it a little harder to press than Apple’s default earphones.
RHA also says the earphones are machined out of aluminum. To me, the earbuds feel and look like plastic. Still, I found the MA450i’s to be good-looking but definitely not in the realm of high fashion—just simple and tasteful, not flashy. The earphones are also available in white, too, if you want to maintain the Apple aesthetic.
The RHA MA450i ($50) are packaged like premium earphones, coming with 7 different-sized eartips, a carrying pouch, and a fabric-wrapped reinforced copper cable. But poor sound reproduction spoils the party—the earphones sound weak and tinny, and lack the ability to deliver thumping bass. Apple’s $30 EarPods easily outdo them in every aspect except perhaps fit, cord length, and looks.
The new Apple EarPods sound so much better than the previous Apple earphones. The bass really is thumping. But there’s something obvious you need to do to get the best sound out of them: the left earbud goes in the left ear, and the right earbud goes in the right ear.
I’m being serious.
You see, with the previous Apple earphones, it didn’t really matter much whether you put them in correctly. There was only the slightest difference in sound and comfort when they were flipped. Not so with the new EarPods.
The first time I tried the EarPods, I just plopped them in incorrectly, left/right, right/left. They sort of fit but sounded….just like the old Apple earphones, maybe slightly worse. But I had them in backwards, and upon reversing them…damn son, whomp whomp whomp!
Could this be the cause for some of the rare, seemingly hastily written mediocre reviews of the EarPods. I mean, they sound great, much better than the $10 MonoPrice earbuds that the WireCuttersays are superior (which I happen to own and, no, they sound terrible. You can’t even move around while wearing the MonoPrices else they channel weird chaffing noises to the eartips. They have no 3-button dongle, either).
Eclipsed by the iPhone 5 intro yesterday was another huge announcement, Apple’s new, radically shaped Earpods ($29). Apple says the new design of the EarPods is “engineered to minimize sound loss and maximize sound output.” Not only will they sound better, the new shape of the earphones will also fit more people comfortably.
These new EarPods will be Apple’s default earphones moving forward, and because they ship with all its mobile products, they will be the most-used earphones on the planet. It will have a huge impact on the industry.
This, of course, should make premium-earphone manufacturers sweat. These companies use Apple’s default earphones as a baseline to design and sell their products around. As long as your earphones sound and/or fit better than Apple’s cheapos, you can make money.
Initial anecdotal evidence suggests that Apple has indeed raised the bar. Some members of the media got their hands on EarPods a little early, and their initial reports so far are positive. The Chicago Sun Times’ Andy Ihnatko on Twitter yesterday had this to say about the new EarPods:
Holy cats…the new earbuds aren’t at all a subtle upgrade. Bass is rich and resonant. Funk is funkier, classical is classier.
Apple’s own official description says the EarPods’ “audio quality is so superior, they rival high-end headphones that cost hundreds of dollars more.” If true, we could see Apple lay waste to another industry, one long ripe for the plucking. Apple even says the EarPods offer “greater protection from sweat and water,” which means, combined with their improved fit, they chould even challenge companies who make athlethic sweat-resistant earphones.
If you were looking for a disruptive revolutionary product yesterday, it may have slipped beneath your notice. It’s the EarPods.
You can watch Apple’s Jony Ives describe the new EarPods in the video below.
If you read this site, then you’ll know I’m a huge fan of the Klipsch Image S4i earphones. I consider them to be the best value in iPhone earphones out there. The only major downside of the S4i’s is lack of durability. Klipsch is looking to address that issue that with the new Klipsch Image S4i Rugged.
This new rugged version adds water and weather resistance, and “tough rubber moldings” to increase durability. I have to say though, looking at the photos, the flimsy, thin-spaghetti cords of the previous version look exactly the same. The major difference seems to come with the rugged-looking rubber material covering the three-button dongle and the earbuds (which used to be a slick glossy white).
The best news about the S4i Rugged is that they keep the same award-winning 8.5-mm dual-magnet micro speakers inside, so even if this “Rugged” thing is just a marketing gimmick, you’re still getting an awesome-sounding pair of earphones at a good price. The Klipsch Image S4i are $99 and come with a nice carrying case and 4 different sized pairs of ear tips.
The Klipsch Image S4i ($55-$100) are one of the most recommended iPhone earphones out there because they offer the best value when it comes to sound quality for the price. The S4i’s are even a bigger value when you can find them for as low as $55, which is the low end of their fluctuating price range on Amazon (again, see CamelCamelCamel.com for price ranges). CNETgives them 4.5 out of 5 stars and says the “Klipsch Image S4i earphones offer up sound quality on par with and better than sets that cost many times as much.” PCMagrates them 4 out of 5 stars and compliments the S4i’s bass response for playing modern music. I’ve also reviewed the S4i for Art of the iPhone, giving them a 9.0 out of 10, highly recommended rating.
The S4i are stylish, good-looking headphones, available in Apple-friendly glossy white or glossy black, both with chrome accents. The main downside for the S4i is the same as that of almost all in-ear earphones: lack of durability. Don’t expect to shove these in your pocket on a daily basis and expect them to last forever. The S4i are currently $90 on Amazon as of the writing of this article.
2. Velodyne vPulse
Coming in a close second are the Velodyne vPulseB earphones ($70-$99). When it comes to bass, the vPulse are the best performing earphones on this list. CNET’s David Conroy says the vPulse “delivers impressive bass, so you’re in for a treat if that’s your pleasure.” Brent Butterworth of Sound and Vision Magazinesays, “No doubt about it, the vPulse is the IEM for bass freaks.” The reason I give the Klipsch S4i the edge is that S4i deliverer clear mids and highs and perform better at higher volumes.
The vPulse also don’t cut corners on design. They have a flat, linguine-like cord that helps prevent tangles, an L-shaped plug that prevents wear and tear, and come with 4-different sized silicone eartips to help get the right fit. The vPulse are rarely on sale, but have dipped as low as $70 on Amazon.com.
3. DiddyBeats In-Ear Earphones with ControlTalk
Is P-Diddy the next Steve Jobs? Uh, no. But his DiddyBeats In-Ears with ControlTalk ($60-$150), part of the Dr. Dre line of headphones, are one of the better earphones for listening to modern music, mostly because the bass thumps in the ear like a drum without sounding distorted or overbearing. We don’t recommend paying the full $150 for the Diddybeats, but they can be a good value when on sale, which they often are. They have been as cheap as $60 on Amazon (they are currently selling for $85 as of this writing).
CNETgives the Diddybeats 4 out of 5 stars, saying “The Diddybeats earphones offer a great balance of style, durability, features, and sound quality.” PCMag is a little less friendly, rating them a 3.5 out of 5 stars, noting that the love the bass response but deduct points for being “too expensive” (that’s why you get them on sale) and point out they might not fit everyone.
4. Klipsch Image S5i Rugged
The Klipsch Image S5i Rugged earphones ($50-$120) are designed to be durable enough for athletes to use but still sound good enough to please music lovers. The earphones are water-resistant, and the cables are tangle free and extra durable. If any earphone can survive being repeatedly stuffed in your pocket, it’s these.
Sound reproduction for the S5i is excellent but not quite as good as their older brother (and our no. 1 pick), the Klipsch S4i. CNETrates them 4 out of 5 stars, saying the earphones “provide thumping bass and solid overall audio.” Engadget gave them similar praise, saying the earphones had “rich reproduction of lows and mids with a noticeable emphasis on bass.” Amazon currently has the S5i at around $90 (regular price $120), but the price has fallen as low as $55.
5. V-Moda Remix Remote Headphones for iPhone
The VModa Remix Remote ($40-$80) are stylish earphones with a bass-heavy sound that really impressed at least one review site, iLounge, which went as far as to say that the Remix Remote are better sounding than even our #1 pick, the Klipsch S4i. They rated the VModa Remix a B+, recommended. CNET is a little less enthusiastic, rating them 3.5 stars out of 5, noting the earphones deliver excellent bass but also saying that overall sound reproduction was “not particularly clean or balanced.” But the Remix’s best attribute is perhaps is that they can be found at the lowest prices out of all the earphones on this list. For example, as of this writing, they’re currently available for only $40 on Amazon.com.
5 (tie). Maximo IP-595
The Maximo IP-595 ($60-$80) are stylish earphones with polished-metal earbuds and a cloth-wrapped cord. And like all of our headphones listed here, they accentuate the lower bass end of the sound spectrum, perfect for lovers of modern music. MacWorldrates the earphones 4 out of 5 stars, noting the deep bassy sound and saying that the IP-595 are “a nice looking, impressive sounding headset at an excellent price that will please a broad range of users. ” Included with the IP-595’s are 3 sets of eartips (small, medium, large), shirt clip, and small carrying case. As of the writing of this article, the Maximo IP-595’s are around $60 on Amazon.com.
The JayBird Freedom 3 ($99) are sweatproof wireless bluetooth earphones designed for athletes, and they come with a lifetime warranty against damage from sweat. They also have a built-in microphone and three-button music/call controls compatible with the iPhone. As a runner who runs with my iPhone, I was excited to give them a spin, especially since I’ve yet to find a decent bluetooth earphone solution that will stand up to a good sweat drenching. The good news, so far, is that the JF3 look like they’re it.
Durability is perhaps the most important attribute for sports headphones. More specifically, durability against sweat. I’ve been using the JF3 for 3 months now, and I’ve put them through a dozen long, sweat-drenching runs. So far, the JF3 remain unscathed. While the lifetime warranty against sweat damage gives me some peace of mind, it’s still nice to know I won’t be replacing them every 5 workouts, unlike other “sweatproof” earphones I’ve reviewed recently.
The JF3 get around 6 hours of continuous usage battery life (for music/calls) and 250 hours of standby. 6 hours isn’t all that great for bluetooth headphones in general, but a compromise was likely made to keep the headphones lightweight, which they are, weighing around 5 ounces each (which is light for bluetooth earphones, not so much for regular earphones). 6 hours will get you through two maybe three workouts, but after that, you’ll have to charge.
Sound quality is not top priority for sports headphones, but that doesn’t mean they should sound bad either, especially if you’re shelling out your hard-earned money. I’m pleased to say the JF3 are surprisingly good sounding earphones. They push a good level of volume for use in noisier environments and have a meaty lower end that should satisify bass lovers. If I had a complaint, it’s that the mids and highs suffer loss of clarity, which is typical of bluetooth headphones. I’ve used them in both a noisy gym and while running outdoors, and never had a problem hearing music/podcasts nor a complaint for music sounding thin or weak. I would describe the sound quality as on par with the default iPhone earphones.
The JF3 have some nice design touches for athletes. The buttons are easy to use while running, meaning they are well located and tactile enough to be used blindly. There are 3 buttons in total, all on the right earphone. There’s a large rubber call/music button in the center of the earphone, and two small volume buttons located on the upper rim.
The JF3’s buttons can do just about everything the default iPhone headphone’s buttons can do, although the functionality of the button presses is a little different. For example, to advance to the next music track with the JF3, you press and hold the volume-down button instead of double clicking, as you would with the default iPhone headphones.
The JF3 aren’t exactly stylish headphones. You won’t win any fashion shows with them on. Each earphone is the size of a large black Lego block. Combine that with the flat fettuccine-like neck cord that runs between them, and you’ve got a pair of awkward-looking headphones. It’s like wearing two sets of bluetooth headsets (the ones designed for phone calls), which essentially you are. But I wouldn’t call the JF3 a total monstrosity—the headphones are small enough that little children won’t point and laugh at you as you run by, but you won’t look cool either.
To keep the earphones from falling off while exercising, the JF3 come with a set of detachable earloops and 3 sizes of detachable earfins. The earloops wrap over the ear and won’t allow the earphones to fall off. The earfins tuck inside the crevices of your ear and keep the eartips stable. The earloops are definitely the better performing of the two, and because of the extra weight from the built-in rechargeable battery and electronics, necessary for using the earphones comfortably.
One of the annoyances of the headset is a low battery indicator that will chime in the ear every 20 seconds when the battery is low. This basically makes the earphones impossible to use with a low battery. I’d rather have a more subtle warning and be able to completely drain the headset’s battery.
The earphones charge via a USB cord. One end is a regular USB connector, and the other is a mini-USB, which plugs into the earphones. Unfortunately, there is no wall plug (ie, AC adapter, sold separately), so you’ll need to charge it via the USB on your computer or other powered USB source. It takes about two hours to fully charge.
The JF3s come with a nice set of accessories. Included are 3 sets of different size eartips, 3 sizes of earfins, a pair of earhooks, a USB cord for charging, a cool clamshell-style carrying case with a magnetic clasp.
The JF3 are the first bluetooth headphones I’ve come across that I can highly recommend for athletic use. They are durable against sweat (and come with a lifetime warranty against sweat), they sound good for bluetooth earphones, and they get every design element right for use while running and exercising.
Comes with lifetime warranty against sweat damage
Detachable earloops and earfins for sport usage.
Good bass and solid level of sound for use in noisy environments.
Tactile buttons allow for comfortable use while running.
Three-button controls and microphone mean they’re iPhone compatible.
Nice hardshell carrying case.
Average battery life (around 6 hours for music/call usage)
Heavier than most non-bluetooth earphones
Annoying low battery sound makes earphones impossible to use with low battery
As a runner who runs with his iPhone, I purchased the “sweat proof” Motorola S10-HD ($85) wireless bluetooth headphones hoping they’d be a great solution for my long runs. Being wireless and sweat proof made the SD10’s seem like the holy grail of headphones for athletes. Sadly, they’re not as advertised, and certainly not sweat proof, as after only my fifth sweat-drenching run, one of the headphones shorted out.
And I’m not the only athlete to have the SD10-HD’s short out on them. Reviews on Amazon.com are filled with stories of the “sweat proof” SD10-HD’s conking out after a few workouts.
I had other problems with the SD10’s. The controls, which are located near the eartips, require you to blindly grope for the buttons. The buttons themselves are difficult and awkward to press and can lead to annoying moments when you accidentally call somebody during a run or skip a song when you didn’t mean to.
The SD10-HD’s also do not use normal eartips. The headphones come with 4 sets of gigantic, clear rubber eartips that rest on the outside of the ear canal; thus, the SD10’s aren’t true in-ear headphones.
This outside-the-ear-canal design, while comfortable, led to problems when exercising. When sweat runs into the ear canal, it becomes trapped by the ear tips, creating an unpleasant water-in-the-ear feeling. You know that feeling just after you step out of the pool? That’s what it feels like 20 minutes into a run with the SD10-HD’s.
And it’s a shame too, as the headphones have a few attributes that work well for runners. For example, I was surprised how steady and comfortable the headphones stayed during runs—I was expecting them to flop all over the place. And the fact that they are wireless means no awkward cord bouncing or snagging.
The sound quality of the SD10’s is also pretty good considering they’re both bluetooth and not true in-ear headphones. I would stop short of calling the sound quality great though. They were adequate in bass levels as well as with mids and highs. I did experience some problems with volume levels not being loud enough. The max volume falls short of what even the cheapest headphones are capable of. For most music and podcasts, it wasn’t be a problem, but if you have audio that is quiet to begin with, you will have problems compensating with the SD10-HD’s volume levels.
I also experienced many problems with getting the headphones to turn off. I’m not sure if I received a faulty on/off button, but 80% of the time I could not get the headphones to shut off by pressing the on/off button and instead just had to let the battery run out.
The Motorola SD10-HD bluetooth wireless headphones did not live up to their athlete-friendly billing nor their high price tag. Motorola advertises them as “sweat proof,” but I and many others found them anything but. With its frustrating controls, poor sound levels, and an uncomfortable problem with trapping sweat in the ear, I can’t recommend the SD10-HD’s to athletes.
The Motorola SD10-HD currently sell for around $60 on Amazon or can be found at Apple Stores for around $85.
While in-ear headphones for the iPhone have slowly become abundant for iPhone users over the past few years, over-ear headphones, aka cans, that come with a microphone/music control dongle are still rare. That’s why we were pleased to review the Denon AH-D310R ($70)—headphones that, via a control dongle, give you the same music/phone-call functionality of the default iPhone headphones. Sonically, AH-D310Rs are entry-level headphones that deliver solid sound with a full low end, but which lack the build quality and premium sound of studio-level cans.
I’m a runner, and after destroying 4 pairs of Apple’s headphones over the last few years by sweating too much on them, I decided it was time to pony up for a pair of sports headphones that are sweat (and water) proof. While in the Apple Store, I came across a new line of sports headphones by Sennheiser co-branded by Adidas. The line offered 3 different “i” models (i for compatibility with Apple products): the headphones I’m reviewing here: the Sennheiser Adidas CX 680i ($99), the PMX 680i, which wrap around your neck, and OMX 680i, which use earloops.