Apple Earphones have been ridiculed for years from all corners. They leak, they sound rubbish and they barely block out the noise of the outside world at all. Apple wants to remedy most of these problems with the EarPod headphones, which will be thrown in for free with the new iPhone 5 and iPod Touch. But are they any good?
Apple EarPod Design
The Apple EarPod headphones use a hybrid design that sits half-way between a pair of earbuds like the old Apple Earphones and an IEM-style pair like the Sennheiser CX 310. They're made of unyielding hard, white plastic that's curved to sit snugly in the cleft of the ear, just above the earlobe. We'd imagine Apple thinks of these as in-ear headphones for people who really don't like in-ear headphones.
Unlike a rubber-tipped IEM earphone, there's no seal made with your ear canal, and consequently they feel much less invasive than proper isolating earphones. They effectively use the natural architecture of your ear - the cartilage - to keep the earpieces in place, and do so more effectively than a traditional-shape earbud.
As with a traditional earbud, though, the exact nature of the fit will depend on your ear shape. And too much fiddling about will cause ear discomfort - in the war of cartilage versus hard plastic, your ears have no chance.
These are earphones that are tuned to deal with some leakage. While they sound best with a partial seal in place, like Apple Earphones the sonic equation is based on letting some of the mid-range sound that the drivers produce float away into the air. Crucially, though, this has been diminished because the "sound flow" is much more carefully directed toward your ear canal than a vanilla earbud. However, technically the Apple EarPods are much closer to a pair of earbuds than a pair of IEM earphones.
You'll also notice a little grille'd port on the side of each earpiece. This vent lets the air - and to an extent the sound - flow more freely throughout the earphone. With all these oversized vents punching holes in the plastic outer wall, you might guess that the Apple EarPods don't offer great sound isolation. And you'd be right.
These earphones offer marginally better isolation than the traditional Apple Earphones, but are far from a massive improvement. The extra directionality of the sound's passage means it can cope with the intrusion of ambient noise more successfully - they're harder to drown out - but you can still hear pretty much everything that's going on around you unless your music is blasting. Passing cars, train announcements and the like will all be audible.
Whether this is a very good or very bad thing is up to you. As people who like to escape from the noise of Central London with music, most of the TrustedReviews team favours the fully-isolating IEM type of earphone.
Leakage is significant too. It's less of a social catastrophe as it was with Apple's previous earphones, but crank up the tunes in the office and you're likely to tick off whoever's sitting next to you. However, overall comfort is good once you learn to live with how the Apple EarPods are meant to fit. They can feel as though they're forever on the cusp of falling out of your ears, but they seemingly never actually do.
Apple EarPod Accessories
For an entry-level pair of earphones, the Apple EarPods are reasonably well-specified. The cable is - just as with the original Earphones - fairly thick - and there's a great little remote housing that also acts as a hands-free kit.
It's fairly long, but entirely lightweight and has a generous dip in the middle that makes using it blind a cinch. You normally pay at least an extra £10 for a housing like this.