• Apple In-Ear Headphones with Remote & Mic Review

    Anyone who has ever encountered me on the bus would know I am a real anti-social bastard. Music time is my time to escape the world. Naturally, a good set of headphones are an essential part of this process. As an owner of Apple's former In-Ear offering as well as an iPhone, I was very keen to see what the new model offered. Read on for the results.

    I am one of those people who can simply not stand the standard iPod or iPhone headphones. They are the wrong shape and result in searing pain before I have even finished listening to one shitty three minute pop song. I brought a set of Apple's original In-Ear headphones a week or so after buying my first (third generation) iPod back many moons ago! Overall I really liked them. Despite what others say the fit was good and comfortable for me and the sound quality was half decent. After many years of loyal service they recently went for a swim (read: were dropped accidentally into a glass of water on a bedside table) and haven't quite been the same since. That combined with my desire to have remote and microphone functionality for use with my first generation iPhone led me to asking for a set of these for Christmas.

    First Impressions

    Compared to previous headphone offerings from Apple, these guys are quite noticeably a far tighter package. The packaging is beautiful in a way only Apple knows how to do and the headphones themselves feel far more high end than their predecessors. Included in the box is of course the headphones, some stickers, some documentation, replacement mesh caps and the very nifty yet perhaps over-the-top pill shaped container holding the alternatively sized small and large earpieces.

    Whilst the former model had large silicon caps that would slide every which way, these suckers have a more streamlined design that after a week of use hasn't moved around on me yet. They also look a hell of a lot cooler, which of course is very important for impressing the ladies. Sticking them into your ears for the first time feels a little weird as I do think these headphones sit deeper and far tighter than the older model. That being said, it is far easier to achieve a really snug fit with these which of course is important for fully sick doof doof. The standard medium sized silicon cups that come on the headphones were fine for me (it is worth noting I used the medium size cups with the older model too) and the included sizes should fit most ears half decently.

    The Features
    The big controversy surrounding these headphones is of course the lack of full compatibility across Apple's current line up of portable music players. Audio will of course work on anything but full remote functionality is limited to fourth generation iPod Nano's, the iPod Classic and second generation iPod touches. Those with older iPods loose out with no remote compatibility whilst those with the first generation iPhone/iPhone 3G or a first generation iPod touch cop reduced compatibility. It isn't all that bad though really. For iPhone/iTouch users, all remote functions excluding volume controls will work. The microphone does play nicely with both models of iPhone however I am unsure if it works with the first generation iPod Touch - anyone know this?

    As for the performance of the remote and mic - it does what it says on the can and it does it well. Click to play and pause as well as answer a call, double click to advance songs/deny a call and triple click to go to the previous song all work well and are exactly the same as those functions available by using the default set of headphones that come with the iPhone. It is worth pausing here for a moment to note that the actual remote sits rather high on the chord (presumably for better microphone performance) however I do not believe it is as easy to use as the lower situated remote on the default iPhone headphones as a result of this.

    If you caught the bus/train from and into some of the places I do (Logan, for those Brisbane locals reading), the ability to change songs on public transport without having to reveal your $700+ iPhone to the topless drug addict who is constantly scratching himself and rambling sitting across the aisle from you is worth the price of admission alone. Sure volume controls from the actual remote would be nice and they may one day arrive with a software update, but for now I am a happy camper with what is offered.

    The Sound
    I have to be honest here. Upon first listen to these headphones I was devastated. They didn't really sound that good at all. I mean sure, the sound quality was good, but it wasn't the one hundred times improvement I was expecting due to the whiz bang new woofer and tweeter included in each ear piece. Upon further testing (read: listening to a shit load of music) I figured out why. Now I am not even going to pretend to claim I know the first thing about sound and all that jazz, so these impressions are simply those from an everyday user.

    The first few songs I listened to with the new headphones were rock or 'radio pop' kind of music and to be honest, after listening to a lot more of the same kind of music, these headphones are kind of average in that regard. Don't get me wrong, it still sounds good, but there isn't the leap in quality of sound you kind of expect for $109. It is most noticeable in this style of music as well that I personally think the headphones don't perform very well with highs. Overall though, for all music in general I believe the sound is a lot more balanced and perhaps picks up finer details a bit better; something noticed most when listening to very complex tunes such as Pink Floyd for example.

    During testing I noticed that bass in the new headphones was significantly different than bass in their predecessors. It was almost weaker but that is by no means a bad thing. I decided that to test out the bass properly I needed to bust out a song (I somewhat embarrassingly) have in my music collection called 'Bassgasm'. For those unfamiliar it is basically three and a half minutes of doof doof - the kind you hear in the Honda Civics parked at traffic lights being driven by wankers with their windows rattling. Listening to this 'song' I realised that the bass in these new headphones is actually pretty fucking awesome. It is hard to describe but it is like it is just right. In my experience bass is normally overdone and it can really wreck music, but not here. In fact I would go as far as to say that listening to 'Bassgasm' with these headphones is actually a pleasure as it drops through the deepest of notes.

    With this knowledge I decided to try some techno tunes and wow - just wow. The headphones finally came through. Listening to songs such as '9pm (til I come)' by ATB was an almost orgasmic experience. Everything is simply so balanced and such a pleasure to listen to. Going one further I busted out some of my pigmently challenged tunes such as Trick Daddy, Usher and Snob Scrilla and the results were the same - a simply beautiful listening experience with a real sense of three dimensional depth to the music.

    I haven't quite been able to decide yet where instrumental and ambient music such as Sigur Ros and Mogwai sits on the scale as results do vary according to individual songs. Your listening experience is also dramatically affected by how well the headphones are sitting in your ears with best results being achieved with an airtight seal. Overall the sound quality is above average with it being really exciting for hip hop and techno listeners. That being said, if you listened primarily to rock and pop music and were looking at these simply for their sound quality as opposed to the added remote functions as well, I would probably look elsewhere.

    The Verdict
    Ultimately the decision as to weather or not these $109 puppies are worthy of sitting in your ear wax all day is your decision based on your level of satisfaction with your current headphones and your feelings about the reduced level of remote compatibility. For someone like me who needed a new set of headphones and is more than happy to simply be able to use the remote and control volume via the iPhone's external buttons, they are an absolute winner. If you do decide to purchase a pair, be a darl and make sure you use this link to help MacTalk out. Ta.

    Yes, before you point it out I know there isn't any pictures with this review. I honestly would not have been able to do any better job at it than iLounge already has, so check out their far superior review and photos if you want to have a gander.
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