In the middle of my commute last week, my trusted Sennheiser CX-300 earbuds decided they were finished with this world. Needing a quick replacement, I found a nifty pair of earbuds at Target–The Specked by Philips/O’Neill. The primary feature to catch my attention was the cord. It’s wrapped in nylon, matches the color of the specked paint job, and it’s touted as being extremely durable and virtually tangle-free. Since the internal wiring to my previous earbuds was what went wrong, I felt that this heavy-duty solution could be what I was looking for.
Oh, who am I kidding–the pretty color and namesake “speckling” on the buds themselves was the final deciding factor. They looked pretty solid and the price point ($20 bucks!) was right, so I picked them up to try out.
What’s in the Box:
Specked ear buds
Two additional sized ear sleeves
(no instructions or spec sheet, though)
Frequency response – 6-23,500 Hz
Cable length – 47″
Even-length ear phone cables
24k gold-plated. straight 3.5mm plug
Specked is one in a line of headphone and IEMs that is a collaboration between Philips and the surf company O’Neill. I’m not sure what the line really has to do with surfing–none are waterproof– but color choices do seem to be more along the lines of the O’Neill color palette: royal blue, bold black (my pair above–I’m calling it “teal”), orange, ultra fuchsia, royal purple, and white out.
Three sizes of ear sleeves are included, each size has a different color. The “mediums” are probably what will be the best fit for most people and are pre-installed. They are also the only sleeve that matches the color of the cord and speckle pattern. When the proper sized sleeve is used, the sound isolation is good, about average for an IEM. The only minor quibble is that it was unnecessarily complicated to remove and replace sleeves on the earbud tips. The sleeve opening is much smaller than the tip of the earbud, requiring quite a bit of maneuvering and twisting just to get the sleeve back on. I remedied this by simply taking the sleeves off my Sennheisers and using them on the Philips. They snapped in place quickly, easily, and securely (and provided a better seal, for me).
I’m no audiophile, but I do listen to music for several hours each day during my commute. I found the sound quality of the buds to be quite good–when I was able to get a tight seal. Although, music sounded very far away or as though I was listening to it through a hollow tube when playing at lower volumes. At higher volumes, music was normal and filling. Again, I’m no expert, but my *guess* is the shape of the earbud sleeve. Internally, they are shaped like tubes or narrow funnels from earbud tip to your ear. Every other IEM earbud I’ve used have had wider openings, with less room for the music to travel/bound around from earbud to ear. Just a guess.
But for the $20 price tag, the sound overall surpassed my expectation. I don’t know if it was my imagination but suddenly I was able to pick out the nuances in the mixes on each song–the isolated instruments in the left or right channel, the fading between the two, etc. I usually listen to music while reading and several times I put my Kindle down just to listen to never-before-discovered musical layers in my favorite songs. I’ve been listening to a lot of Adele lately, and “Rolling in the Deep” and “Set Fire to the Rain” come through crisp and clear. I have one song–“Lullaby” by Sia–where the first five seconds are intentionally very soft. In my old buds, this section was inaudible, but with these the soft instrumental can be heard almost immediately.
The packaging states that they produce a “deep, dynamic bass” and maybe it’s just me, but I never seem to hear an obvious or particularly heavy whomping bass through any of my “bass-heavy” earbuds. The reproduced sound to me was simply “full.” Meaning I had a nice range of lows and middles, the highs weren’t always quite as crisp–but for the majority of my music, this wasn’t noticeable or distracting. My musical proclivities don’t lean toward metal, rap, or anything else with heavy use of bass, so that might be why I can’t seem to detect much difference. Although, for those interested in a broader upper range and less bass, I reviewed the thinksound Rain earbuds last year and those would fit the bill perfectly.
I wish I could stop my review there. Unfortunately, these earbuds have a con–only one, but it’s the dealbreaker for me. The heavy duty nylon cord produces a distracting amount of microphonic noise when lightly bumped or rubbed against clothing or any other material. I’m used to a little bit of noise from the cords, but the wrap manages to amplify even a light brush to a cringe-inducing level. Think of tapping on the chest piece of a stethoscope and that’s pretty on-par with the noise these make. I primarily wore the earbuds while sitting on the train and just the motion of the train itself was enough to rub the cord against my shirt and produce the distortion. When I wore them while walking across the street, I heard more line noise than actual music.
I’m not sure if Philips is planning on a redesign of these buds in the near future, but simply stripping off the nylon wrap would make these earbuds a steal for the price and sound quality.