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Mini Review: Thoughts on Apple EarPods as compared to the old "iBuds"

  1. ljokerl Contributor

    Thoughts on Apple EarPods

    Who would have thought that the one interesting piece of Apple tech to come out of 2012 would be a new set of "iBuds"? Certainly not me, but here they are, already on sale for $29 in all of their glossy white glory. Genuinely curious, I borrowed a pair of EarPods from a coworker for a few days, giving up one of my high-end headsets in trade.

    Out with the old

    I am one of those who doesn't consider the stock apple buds (of the latest-gen variety) to be terrible. Like most earbuds they have noticeable bass roll-off, don't sound very full-bodied, and don't have the best crispness or fine detailing but they are clean-sounding and airy. There's absolutely none of that boomy, closed-in feel I used to dread with cheap headphones of yesteryear. Simply put, they are not offensive. That said, I probably wouldn't listen to them willingly as the cold-ish tone and mid-centric sound don't really work for me, especially considering the number of great sub-$50 IEMs out there. 
    Left: Apple earbuds (from an iPhone 3G) Right: Apple EarPods

    In with the new

    According to Apple the new EarPods have been re-designed from the ground up for better comfort, durability, and sound quality. The durability part is apparent - the new strain reliefs on the housings grip the cables tightly and the mic/remote unit now has strain reliefs of its own. The pinhole mic is also gone, presumably for increased sweat resistance, and the remote button operation now feels weightier and more precise. The EarPods are also a touch heavier than the old buds, at 12g vs 10g. Isolation is still nonexistent and they do leak at high volumes.

    The comfort improvements are supposed to be the result of the new housings, which are meant to both channel the sound into the ear canal and also grip the outer ear better. This is far from a novel idea - Yurbuds models and other sets such as the Philips SHQ1000 have utilized the same principle for a while. My ears, which have been spoiled by custom molds and soft silicone IEM tips, found the fit of the EarPods no more comfortable than that of my old Apple buds. Actually, the potential for better sound quality makes them less comfortable for me - I get the best sound out of the EarPods by pushing the 'nozzle' right into my ear canal, but long-term comfort drops precipitously as a result.

    When it comes to the way they sound, though, there is no comparing the new to the old. The biggest improvement for me is the bass – the low end of the EarPods is quite good. Bass depth is much better and there’s quite a bit more impact and body to the sound. The mid-bass can sound boosted with a modicum of a seal between the EarPod and ear but I’ll take that over the gutless low end of the old Apple buds any day. In addition, I think the improved bass response could encourage some iPod users to listen at lower volumes – always a plus in my book. Perhaps Generation Z won’t be known as the ‘hearing loss generation’ after all.

    The improved bass of the EarPods results in a warmer, more natural tone as compared to the old Apple buds. In fact, the sound is overall more natural, balanced, and refined. The upper midrange is less forward and shouty and the treble is less edgy – basically the EarPods sound less like a poorly sealed IEM than the old Earbuds do. Volume with the same input power is a little lower as a result, but hopefully that won't cause the average iPod listener to discard the EarPods. Clarity is improved, which is especially noticeable at higher volumes. The treble is still not very smooth but, when properly seated, the EarPods don’t sound particularly sibilant to me. Overall, the sound is less strident and a bit more laid-back. The soundstage, too, is wide, though depth could be better.

    Now for the bad news – the EarPods have retained the slightly washed-out note presentation of the previous-gen Apple buds. They are clean and clear but seem almost too slow to resolve fine detail. At the same time, note thickness is still not great compared to some of the better sub-$10 earphones - the Philips SHE3580, for example. In this way and others, the EarPods remind me of the Monoprice 8320, a now-popular entry-level in-ear notorious for its finicky fit.

    White vs chrome

    Comparing the EarPods to the Monoprice 8320 yields interesting results – there really isn’t a night and day difference between the two, and while the 8320 does pull away in most instances, it wins on having less glaring weaknesses rather than more impressive strengths. For one, the 8320’s bass depth is better – the EarPods have very good extension for a conventional earbud but the 8320 has a home field advantage here. The EarPods, on the other hand, seem to elevate mid-bass a little more and sound a bit slower. Clarity is similar between the two and both lack the crispness of an armature-based product. The treble of the 8320 is smoother and less fatiguing over long listening sessions, with the EarPods’ peaks coming in lower and being more noticeable during casual listening. The soundstage battle, too, is won by the 8320, with slightly better depth and better layering. Comparisons aside, however, the fact that the EarPods can run side by side with one of the most competent entry-level in-ears out there is very telling.


    It’s worth noting again that the EarPods are rather touchy when it comes to fit. Perhaps this is because the potential of actually getting them to sound great now seems oh-so-close at all times, or maybe that's just the nature of the design. The fact remains - whereas the old buds sounded average from any angle, the EarPods definitely earn their $29 price tag with the right fit. For many, sound and comfort will both fall into place with the EarPods - great news considering they sound better than many entry-level in-ears. My spoiled ears and I will be heading back to the land of IEMs. 
  2. Cryok95
    Nice comparison. I have quite a few friends who want to get these.
    No match for my Miracles though :p
  3. Custom1
    Awesome work!
  4. ljokerl Contributor
    Nor mine
    Thanks [​IMG]
  5. HeadphoneAddict Contributor
  6. ljokerl Contributor
    They're almost too cheap not to! I'm sure you have plenty of compatible tips to play around with the fit - took me a while to get used to mine. 
  7. gjohnst4
    Funny. I was reading this thinking, "this reminds me of a Joker review....."   Then I realized it was.
    The 8320 is an amazing phone for the price. Ordered 10 at the 5.28 sale price and I hand them out to would be Head-Fi'rs as gifts. No one complains! It's price, and it's ability to compete with a $29 pods are a testament.
    Thanks for the write up, My curiosity is squelched.
  8. ljokerl Contributor
    Thanks [​IMG]. Wanted to write something up on the earpods but they aren't technically IEMs so they didn't go in the long thread. 
  9. rickdohc
    How would you rank them against the stock Sansa Earbuds?  IMO they sound almost the same but the Sansa earbuds have less treble and its less fatiguing over long periods of time, would like yo know your opinion.  People underestimate these little earbuds but they sound nice for what they are are.
    After reading about these earbuds, bought a pair but i am hearing a better and more refined sound from my Senheiser Mx580, better mids and highs, the bass has more definition and quality.
    overall, IMHO, they are a nice upgrade over the old ones, but all these hype of being better than anything under 50 or even 100 made no sense to me,  also that these was the best sounding earbud also doesnt make no sense, since IMHO the Mx580 sounds much better and more refined and they go for 30 bucks.
    As always, nice writeup!
  10. ljokerl Contributor
    Don't have any sansa buds anymore, or any other non-IEM earbuds for that matter. I had a HiSound PAA-1 Pro until recently and enjoyed that more than the Earpods. It's more expensive though. 
  11. lilboozy
    Eapods vs she3580?
  12. ljokerl Contributor

    The Philips are more v-shaped in sound signature, warmer, and have more natural note thickness. The bass is significantly more present, especially deep bass. The presentation is more in-the-head as expected with a properly-sealing IEM. I preferred the sound of the SHE3580 to the Earpods but not by a huge margin. 
    On a non-SQ note, the isolation of the earpods is (predictably) much worse and I didn't find them as comfortable as the SHE3580.
  13. tuan2195
    The thing literally blown me away when I first listened to it. It's not that it's amazing or anything, it's just that I didn't expect such quality from Apple earphones. Huge improvement I can say.
    There are better IEMs for the price, but for $30 these are of good values if you need something with mic, dislike IEMs and don't mind the brand (I do)
  14. ljokerl Contributor

    I agree, there's a surprisingly big gap between these and the old Apple buds - enough so that even the average iPod user should notice a difference.  
  15. helloimx
    Earpods vs Beats Solo HD?

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