Frequency response: 5Hz to 21kHz Carry case: Hard case Tips: Small, medium, large plastic Cable length: 139.5cm Weight: 10.2g Remote: Clicker with volume adjustment
It’s unlikely anyone would seriously claim the iPod’s success is down to sound quality and Apple hasn’t enjoyed fantastic success when it’s actually attempted to focus on audio – the iPod Hi-Fi was discontinued after less than 18 months, for instance. Apple’s In-Ear Headphones are "are engineered for superior acoustic accuracy, balance and clarity," according to the Apple site, "so you hear details you’ve been missing with other, lesser headphones" (presumably this would be the bundled iPod headphones?)
As you'd expect from Apple, the packaging design involves a lot of white, and is guaranteed to make the fanboys swoon
As you’d expect, the packaging is an attractive work of stern purity, and combined with the £54 price makes them an attractive upgrade. The box mimics the design language of the iPhone’s packaging, with the earphones sitting in a tray which lifts out to reveal a document pocket and many mentions of the fact it’s all designed by Apple in California. There’s a triangular, clear plastic topped box which lifts out to function as a carry case and hidden away in the tray, two replacement mesh covers for the innards of each earphone. There’s also a dinky pill shaped capsule which hold two replacement sets of tips.
These come in small, medium and large size, and unlike any of the other earphones’ tips, have two parts. They comprise a soft, translucent outer cone and then an inner, bright white core which is made of sturdier plastic. This core is what slides onto the earphone and its toughness makes changing the tips easy.
It does, however, result in the tips feeling noticeably tougher in the ear than the other earphones on test. The Apple earphones were the least comfortable of all the earphones, and I had trouble balancing a comfortable fit with the tight seal that’s necessary for in-ear headphones to create the appropriate level of bass. This is obviously going to be different for different people, but given I didn’t have this problem with any of the other earphones it’s worth pointing out in the review.
The wire is white of course, with a neat Y-split after 106.5cm, and a further 33cm of cable to the earphone. The remote and microphone assembly is typically Apple in that it’s incredibly slim. It’s on the right hand split of the wire, as it is on the basic iPhone earphones, and it lacks a clip, but it adds the ability, unique among the earphones on test, to change volume. The only problem is that putting three buttons (up, down, and the all-purpose clicker) on such a remote which measures less than 3cm long means it's not very practical to use.
The sound is disappointing – for all the Apple website’s blether about each earpiece containing two drivers, songs sound weak and thin through them. Compared to the other earphones on test, they’re disastrously lacking in bass. It’s like the drummer’s been given cushions to play rather than a drum kit.
This means songs frequently lack depth – Atlas is normally a very driven, rhythmic song, but through these is comes across as thoroughly boring. Jay-Z’s rapping on ‘Heart of the City’ sounds like it’s backed by a recording of Kanye West tapping on the desk rather the groove the song is supposed to ride on. The absence of bass does mean they’re good with details; they pass the ‘Hey Jude’ test, and you can hear some surprising details in My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Only Shallow’, but the sound is unbalanced and listless.
Testing earphones isn’t exactly the hardest job but the Apple In-Ear Headphones were the one pair in this test I wasn’t sorry to be finished with. If you’re looking for replacement iPhone headphones for around £50, then the Sennheiser MM50s are a far better bet, and they’re cheaper too.