Philips O’Neill Specked Earbuds Review

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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)

Product Specs:

9mm drivers
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.

The current The Specked earbuds are available through Amazon for just under $20.


Product Information

  • a headphone-enabled device
  • strong cable
  • reinforced connectors
  • great sound quality
  • price
  • a distracting amount of line noise

About The Author

23 thoughts on “Philips O’Neill Specked Earbuds Review”

  1. Gadgeteer Comment Policy - Please read before commenting
  2. Hi!

    When using in-ear type earbuds, wrap the wire around your ear, letting it fall behind it, you will not hear as much of the noise induced by the wires.

    It also allows a safer fit as pulling accidentally on the wires is less likely to pull the earbuds out of your ears!

  3. Morgan Bornstein

    @Matt – Good advice! I typically avoid any bud that has to wrap around my ears or insert from above, just a personal preference thing. But your suggestion could definitely make these buds more usable.

  4. I don’t know about these particular earbuds but the Plantronics that I tried to like have the same problem – a sheath around the cord to prevent tangles. I tried the cord over my ear and pretty much every which way, for a month I tried, before giving up on them. Just too noisy.

  5. Another noise reducer is to use the clip attachment that a number of other manufacturers use to anchor the cord in a fashion that prevents movement close to the ear, i.e., on your shirt, etc. It seems to work pretty well for these headphones as the noise is greatest at abrasions closest to the headphone.

  6. @Ed – Yeah those clips do tend to help with the cord bumping against the body or rubbing against clothing, to a degree. This particular model though didn’t include one; it may have helped a little.

  7. I just purchased these today,and they’re going right back to the store. The noise produced by the cord was so distracting, I consider them a huge waste of money. Made another stop and puchased the Philips Dynamic Bass earbuds, which have great sound and NO distracting noise. Nylon sheath – bad idea!

  8. I have the same problem with mine. I bought mine yesterday, I hope to get it replaced with a different model. I can’t stand the distracting noise! Thanks for the review btw.

  9. I bought these for 30 dollars at radio shack and I thought to myself I won’t like these ill return later I tried them out and I personally think they work great the noise the cord made never bothered me
    It upsets me to say they finally stopped working the other day and I still want to cry
    They lasted for a full year and I’m extremely rough on earbuds
    I’m definitely getting a new pair

  10. I’ve purchased this 7 months ago and it’s not working anymore. I thought this earphone will last for at least a year. I will definitely not buy this anymore.

  11. I just bought these from Radio Shack as my other set, the mic broke. Plugged them into my blackberry, sound only came out of the bud opposite the one with the mic on it Plugged it into my computer, same thing, only one side works. Same with HTC EVO and IPAD. As there are no instructions thought there may be some button to push (Phone/Music) but after looking and many tries can’t find it. Only got it to mute/play/skip to next song/hang up/replay song from beginning. Was going to get the Senh. 4i’s but $32 sounded better than $99 and thought the cord would be more durable. Looks like a return is needed

  12. i really liked the headphone design but they were a little expensive… and after a few months of having the headphones, my right speaker went out, and kept cutting in and out, and about a week later, my left speaker cut out.

  13. @becka: That’s a very common complaint with earbuds. It’s usually due to a wire coming loose on one side. If you could identify where the wire is loose, it’s sometimes possible to reconnect by stripping the casing and reattaching the two ends of the internal wires. But it’s also probably easier (not to mention safer) to just buy another pair when that happens. It’s unfortunate 🙁

  14. @Alex: Hmm, you might want to call Philips customer service line. I believe these are covered under a warranty. But you might need to just trash this pair and pick up a new set–sorry!

  15. Hi, i really interested in to get a pair of this. After reading your review, i found out that most problem is just a common problem for an earhphones. Just one question, does it come along with mic ? easy to push a call with iphone.

  16. This reviewed version didn’t have a mic for mobile integration. I believe they do come with that option now, however.

  17. Oh I wish I had read this before I bought them. Focus on the last paragraph!!! The noise distraction from the nylon chord is over the top ridiculous. Very irritating. Assuming they have somebody test these things before they are put on the market, I will never buy a Philips product again. They charge over $20 for this garbage knowing dang well what they are really giving the consumer. I threw them in the garbage – absolutely brutal. Do NOT buy these.

  18. this is ‘TOY’ not ‘EARPHONE’ or maybe better call this ‘JUNK’. dont spend your money for this TOY GUYS 🙂 . for the best experience use s*nnheiser.

  19. The sound is amazing and bass is pretty good, with descent noise isolation ,comparable to the Bose earphones . I wouldnt recommend this for exercise purposes as the wire is like a stethoscope , amplifying the slightest rubbing noise.

  20. I purchased these earbuds from dick smith when my beats by dre tours broke, going to the store i didnt want to spend alot on a earphone due to my tours breaking but i found the specs for $30 i first liked the colour and the way the cord was (it not being plastic so it wont break or crack) and then decided to just buy it. Absolutely a good product! I reccomend them ive now had mine for 6months but im upgrading to the beats by dre solos just for something different lol. & the specs go really loud on my iphone people could he yelling my name and id have it up full blast and not hear them lol.

  21. There awesome!! Ive had mine for nearly year and ahalf and no problems. Actually the only problem is that ive lost my spare ear bud sleeve thingos. Where can i get new ones?

  22. These earbuds are the most durable I’ve ever used. I got them extremely cheap and wish now I bought more. The sound quality is good, maybe not audiophile perfect but absolutely not bad, very comparable to mid range sennheiser (I actually prefer this). Totally recommended

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