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Apple In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic Review

on February 2, 2009 6:37 am

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Apple is once again trying its hand at the in-ear headphone market, trying to compete with some of the higher end earbuds currently available. The Apple In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic is their second attempt to bring us a set of in-the-ear headphones that rival the quality and tech-worthiness of the iPod/Touch/iPhone. Apple’s original in-ear headphones were, according to many, ill-fitting and produced lack luster sound. Apple’s latest iteration has supposedly not only fixed those issues but also added greater functionality with the remote and mic system. Added at twice the price of the original.

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As with almost everything Apple produces, the presentation is very well done. But I find it humorous that the packaging for the headphones is larger than the packaging for either the Touch or Nano. It seems they could have included everything in half the volume.

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Package Contents

  • Apple In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic
  • Carrying case
  • Three sets of silicone ear tips (small, medium, large)
  • Two replacement mesh caps
  • Apple stickers
  • Users guide

Features

  • Two separate high-performance drivers
  • Integrated in-line remote control and microphone
  • New sleek design
  • Great case

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Apple has not only redesigned their new earbuds appearance but the audio electronics within. Their new earbuds are definitely nice looking, competing in look with many of the high-end headphones by Shure, Etymotic, and the like. According to Apple, each earbud contains two separate high-performance drivers — a woofer (to handle the bass and mid-range) and a tweeter (for the high-frequency). These dedicated drivers are engineered to help produce accurate, detailed sound throughout the entire audio spectrum. For the most part, this type of dual driver design is typically only found in earbuds starting at twice the price.

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The In-Ear Headphone’s remote control packs three buttons and a built-in mic in a very small, yet functional package. The button in the center allows for the single-click (pause/resume playback), double-click (skip a track), and triple-click (reverse tracks) features similar to the Apple Earphones with Remote and Mic. The two buttons on either end control volume up and down. According to my research, full remote functionality (center button) only works on the latest iPods and all iPhone models. The volume buttons only works on the most recent iPods (120GB classic, 4th generation nano, and 2nd generation Touch) as well as Apple’s latest aluminum unibody MacBooks and MacBook Pros. If you have an older iPod or Macbook, the headphones enable you to hear audio, but all of the fancy functionality and microphone features do not work.

I really like the remote and its functionality a lot. As long as you have one of the new iPods or iPhone, it comes in handy and provides you excellent control of your device while packed away. The remote is intuitive and its shape makes it easy to use based on touch alone. It is placed high on the right earbud cable. It takes a bit to get use to its placement.

I tested the mic with my wife’s iPhone and it worked well enough. The people I talked to said they could hear me clearly. I attempted to use the mic with my second generation Touch using Fring, a multi-messaging application capable of connecting to a Skype account. I was not able to make the application connect, so I have not tried the mic as a voice input. However, I will continue to attempt to make this work.

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Within each earbud is a stainless steel mesh cap that protects the precision acoustic components from dust and debris (earwax). The mesh filter is removable, enabling you to clean it.

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Apple also includes an extra set of the mesh caps as a spare so you can use the earbuds while you clean and dry the used ones.

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As with many in-the-ear headphones of the day, Apple includes small, medium, and large frosted silicone eartips to (hopefully) achieve a snug, comfortable fit. Apple includes a small, well-thought out, pill shaped case for the silicone tips you do not use. There is enough room within to put the extra mesh filters so you do not loose them. I doubt I will carry the eartips and extra filters with me but it is nice having a case to keep all the extras in.

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Apple also includes a nicely made storage case for the headphones. The earbuds fit into the case pretty well but you do have to get the coiling just right to easily click the top to the base of the case. The case is well sized and slips easily into a pocket or purse.

Comfort

I tried each of the silicone eartips multiple times and failed to achieve a good comfortable fit. The earbuds were continuously falling out of my ears and just would not stay in my ear canal. Definitely more of a frustration than anything else.

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Sound Experience

When I was able to seat the earbuds correctly in my ear canal, the sound quality was okay. I have read many reviews and articles that praise these earbuds as a great sounding, incredible bang-for-the-buck, but I will have to disagree. They did not produce enough bass for my tastes and the upper end is over stated.

Overall, I have been incredibly disappointed with Apple’s In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic. I conducted my usual earbud test (one week on my bus ride commute to and from work and one airplane trip) on them and was very happy when I was able to stop using them. I am glad I had the chance to try these earbuds because of their sleek, compact look and great reviews were calling my name, but in the end I am going back to either my old Etymotic ER6i or Future Sonics’ atrio m5.

 

Product Information

Price:$79
Manufacturer:Apple
Pros:
  • Excellent construction and materials
  • Very nice looking
  • Two separate high-performance drivers
  • Intuitive and very functional remote (latest generation iPods and iPhones)
  • Great carrying case
  • One year warranty
Cons:
  • Could not get them to fit well
  • Mediocre audio experience
  • Fair isolation from ambient noise
  • Remote not fully compatible with older iPods

Comments

  1. 1
    Ray Raddatz says:

    I thought that Apple was starting to buck the trend of wasteful packaging but it doesn’t look like it here.

  2. 2
    nomaded says:

    Not having tried these in-ear monitors, but having experience with others, I’m willing to bet the mediocre sound quality is from not having a good seal with the silicone ear tips. Do you know if other brand tips, like the ones from Etymotics or Shure will fit on these Apple earbuds? If so, you may be able to get better performance from a better seal/fit.

  3. 3
    Mystech says:

    Yay, Apple… wasteful packaging, nigh-criminal aftermarket up-sells and reverse ergonomics; all at a premium price! :-)

  4. 4
    Jackie says:

    Add $20 and just get a Bose headphones…hehe

  5. 5
    Jake says:

    i agree i spent less than that on a pair of sennheisers that sound awesome. i have the old in ear earphones and find their fit in my ear to be a little bit “iffy”

  6. 6

    IWOULD BUY THEM IF THEY WORKED WITH SKYPE ON MY I TOUCH

  7. 7
    Theoinpa says:

    I thought about buying these, but heard about the universally poor fit, and how important a good fit is to the sound quality. Funny it seems no matter what comes out, and what I try (and I have tried quite a few) I keep coming back to the Etymonics ER-6i’s. You can generally get them for under 100.00 most places and I just can’t find anything that gives me all they have; sound, size, isolation, comfort (if you get the 2 flange or foam-and they have a new no-squeeze foam earpiece I have heard good things about), and price point. I trust the gadgeteer for reviews by people who think like me so I was not sure about the Apple in-ear fit problems…Till now. Thanks!

  8. 8
    nowhereman says:

    I have had a pair of these since Christmas (present :-)) and you HAVE to get a good fit /seal (not insulting those whom have in-ear /canal phone experience). One thing you can try is substituting ear pieces from some of the Shure earphones (or perhaps others). I have a pair of E2C’s and use the foam plugs which work very well on the Apple ear pieces. I use them on my 3G iPhone and use the bass boost on the iPod.

  9. 9
    Kelly O'Hara says:

    I was curious, you say they work with the iPhone, but Apple still doesn’t list them as compatible.

    I’m sure they work fine with the audio and mic, but I’m curious if they work with the volume control as well, since I’m thinking about something like this to control the music while riding a motorbike.

  10. 10
    nowhereman says:

    they give you the same functionality you have with the original earphones…which means no volume control (yet)

  11. 11
    Adam says:

    They fit well for me.

    No volume up/down on iPhone… although it seems like a trivial firmware fix to me.

    Your own voice sounds muted if you have them both in your ears. Try talking with any sound isolating headphones in and you’ll get an idea of what a phone call using these sounds like. Weird, but if you leave one ear out it’s fine.

  12. 12
    mike says:

    h2o audio’s waterproof phones much better for sound and fit
    many buds to fit all ears

  13. 13
    Philippe Radley says:

    Why no mention of UltimateEars? I have a pair of super.fi 4 vi phones (list: $149 – the price at which they are sold in the Apple store, but available on the web for ca. $110) that provide excellent sound on my 3G and a remote to allow you to take calls or simply to interrupt playback. They come with a whole slew of earpieces and I have achieved a good seal with either the foam rubber or rubber ones. I can’t see the point of this Apple headset if the sound is inferior, whatever the looks.

  14. 14
    Tony C says:

    Counterpoint to the complaints about oversize packaging: Shoplifters

  15. 15
    compudude says:

    So every professional reviewer states that these headphones offer phenomenal sound for the money, but stress that a perfect seal is critical, or else the sound will not be right and bass will be lacking.

    This reviewer admits that he could not get a good fit, and complains that the sound is not good and bass is lacking.

    Gee. What a shock.

    At least the photos and physical descriptions were good. It’s a shame the reviewer couldn’t get a good fit, but that doesn’t make them bad headphones, it makes them bad for HIM. Size 13 Bruno Magli’s aren’t terrible shoes, they’re fantastic… unless you have size 9 feet. Blaming the shoe or the manufacturer is not really fair.

  16. 16
    Alric says:

    This was my experience the Apple In-Ear headphones. I have used multiple in-ear headphones including etymotics, V-Moda, etc. With the Apple In-ears I tried all silicone plugs in multiple in-ear positions. Getting a good seal gets you [b]some[/b] bass but not as much as other headphones. My previous set were the V-modas which have a lot of bass and probably accentuated the problem. I used them for about a week but was never satisfied because of the lack of bass and returned them. It was specially disappointing because the high and mid range sounds were excellent and allowed me to hear sounds in songs I’ve never heard before.

    My current heaphones are V-Moda 2s which are a little better than the previous V-modas.

  17. 17
    Dave says:

    Sorry folks for not keeping up with your comments. I’ve been bouncing around the US this week. My plan is to try these earbuds again, swapping out the silicon tips with other tips I have lying around (hopefully some fit). The goal is to get a better fit and hopefully a better sound experience. I also want to get Fring working on my Touch to test these earbuds w/Skype. I hope to provide additional comments this weekend.

    Dave

  18. 18
    Jeff says:

    I think it might take a while for some other people to get use to it since you have to plug it right inside your ears. It slips out very slowly so u have to adjust it from time to time. but they sounds great with added bass compare the regular iphone headphones. It works both on iphone and itouch 2nd gen(not for 1st gen), the mic is much better and louder than factory headphones that come with iphone. U can use it to record voice on itouch 2nd gen. The volume control works both on itouch and iphone. click once to pause/play, twice to forward a song track and click 3 times to reverse a song track.

  19. 19
    Tim says:

    Anybody able to make it work with Fring for the iPod Touch?
    I haven’t yet, this would be a deal breaker for me.

  20. 20

    [...] have engineered the Z.buds to compete with Apple’s In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic in all categories; multi-function remote, in-line microphone, volume control, and price point. [...]

  21. 21
    Michael says:

    I picked up a pair of these a coupld of months ago, looking for good sound quality at an “affordable” price until the iPhone 3.0 OS comes out with Bluetooth stereo. I like the placement of the mic better than the standard earbuds which kept snagging on the collar of my shirts. Everyone I talk to says that they can hear me very well even in the car with the windows/sunroof open.

    I found the sound quality very good, much better than the standard iPhone earbuds although no where near as good as my Etymotic ER6i. I tried all 3 of the silicone eartips and also had trouble getting them to stay in my ears. I was actually ready to give up on them when I remembered that I has purchased spare silicone tips for my ER6i’s. Although it was a bit of a tight squeeze I was able to put the Etymotic tips on the Apple headphones and I will have to say that the difference was amazing. I was finally able to get a snug fit in my ear canal and got them to stay put. The bass tightened up, the highs got crisper, the mids stood out, and the sound stage expanded so that the music really felt like it was inside my head. It’s still not the sound quality of my Etymotics but it is as good or better than every other headphones I have tried. If you already own a set of these and don’t like what you are hearing then I would suggest investing $15 in the Etymotic tips. As others have pointed out its all about getting a good seal.

    Michael

  22. 22
    Dan says:

    As a audio engineer, I own about a dozen different sets of earphones and in-ear ‘phones. My favorite, by far, are my sure SE530s. I have some Sennheiser cx400s which are good workhorses, but lack the finesse, clarity and stunning accuracy of the Shures. For convenience, I bought the Apple’s, as I wanted something I could use with the phone for calls.

    I found the sound to be quite clear and beautifully clean, but like many, no matter how I tried, the stock Apple tips never made a good seal. The seal is absolutely essential to getting bass out of a balanced armature design. For you non-engineers, just trust me that if you don’t have a proper seal, you will have no bass.

    In my case, I think the trouble had to do with the largest size being a tiny bit too small, and the silicon being too rigid, yet slick, so they left small airgaps and were easy to remove. I tried using some foam tips from a third party, but their large was more of a medium, and never came close to a snug fit.

    Like Michael above, as an experiment, I dug around in my ear-tips from my Shure’s and tried their rubber tips which are about the same size as Apple’s large tips, but made of a more pliant and slightly sticky rubber.

    OMG, what a transformation. Suddenly the sound blossomed, the bass became rich and well balanced, and the “top-heavy” sound was totally mellowed into a rich, well balanced and incredibly detailed presentation.

    Make no mistake, these are the best ‘phones under $200 I have ever heard. The bass is deep and warm, very detailed, and totally lacking fuzz or buzz that I can hear in the Sennheiser set. Follow Michael’s advice, and look at getting tips from a better headphone. The trick is it has to have a soft rubber base that can expand over Apple’s slightly larger stub. Some tips, like the Shure foam tips, have a rigid plastic sleave in the tip to keep it’s position correct, and these won’t expand over the larger Apple posts.

  23. 23
    Tony says:

    Yup, like Dan, I have to disagree with the review. I have the Shure SE530′s, and Etymotic ER4P’s, among other non-earbud headphones (Sennheiser, Grado), and the Apple In-Ears are very, very good. I sometimes use them for techno music production on my laptop (when I’m away from the studio), and they are definitely very detailed and balanced, without being overly fatiguing, like the Etymotics sometime are.

    An incredible value for $80. Now if only the remote

  24. 24

    I’ve had numerous in-ear headphones or earphones since the first .mp3 players came out and these are not only the most expensive, they’re the worst by far.

    Virtually zero bass, even with bass boost enabled on my iTouch 64GB. Mid range and treble sounds oddly
    distorted, too – a sort of unpleasant phasey effect.

    I reverted to older earphones, cheap JVC or the previously purchased ones from Amazon, Sennheiser with mike and switch. Can’t adjust the volume with these unlike the Apple ones but you can click to pause, hold to enable voice control, double click for next track, triple click for previous.

    Forget the Apple branded ones – like Don Henley says ‘Packaging is all there really is”.

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