When browsing for a set of decent earphones that won't bankrupt your entire family, a few key brands stick out. Sennheiser tend to be our first recommendation, followed by the tiny in-ear champs from Ultimate Ears and Sony. Skullcandy lags behind somewhat, but picks off a few straggler buyers looking for something a bit gaudy. Jays tends to get overlooked in the UK, but offer some of the best-value entry-level earphones around. In the shape of the a-JAYS range.
The Four is the top model in the a-JAYS series, and they are more Sennheiser than Skullcandy in design. Apart from a spot of white lettering and a silver back cover to each bud, these earphones are black, all-black. A white model is also available, similarly simple. Like all of Jays earphones - apart from perhaps the slightly odd-looking t-JAYS - they're simple but offer clean, smooth curves that are understated, self-assured and stylish in a low-key way.
There's no flashiness on show here, but there is something a little… cool about their chunky appearance. They look and feel a little more expensive than the cheaper models in the range, finished in matt soft touch black rather than shiny black plastic. Like Sennheiser's CX range though, the a-JAYS series is plagued by a lack of clarity in the differentiation between models.
Ranging from £20 to £50, the clearest difference is price, as they share the same design - and that's not really a good thing. The One earphones are the base model, the Two ups the game with a better accessory package and claimed improved frequency response. The Three keeps the same accessories, but uses an improved driver, while this Four model adds a handsfree and remote housing that sits around 15cm down from the right earbud. A bit clearer on the a-JAYS dynasty now? Well that's just a fraction of the full JAYS range, which tops off with the £200 q-JAYS.
Although this is the top model in the a-JAYS series, it doesn't offer the class-leading accessories package the Two and Three models come with. A generous five sets of rubber tips comes bundled, but you miss out on an airplane converter and earphone splitter. We tend to find these extras end up put to one side and lost pretty quickly, but if you're a frequent flier or like sharing your love for N'SYNC's greatest hits with a friend on the bus, you may feel differently.
In exchange, you get the dinky remote that adopts an attractively chunky design similar to that of the buds themselves. Looking like a black and silver traffic light, it features three multi-function buttons, while the microphone sits on the back, resting fairly close to your mouth in normal usage.
It's only certified for use with Apple's iOS devices, and it refused to work properly with the Android phones we tested it with. Paired with the right gadget (preferably an iPod Touch or iPhone) and it'll switch between songs, change volume, fast forward, rewind and, with an iPhone, accept and reject calls. The microphone is non-directional. This means it'll have no trouble picking up your voice, but also will pick up more ambient noise - not necessarily all that bad for you, but potentially not so great for the person you're calling.