TDK EP-200 Earphones
Amazingly, the EP-200s are the more expensive of the two earbud sets within the new TDK range, with the sports-focused EB-200s available for under a fiver. TDK has obviously made some effort to glam these canalphones up to look slightly more expensive and while there would be no mistaking them for a set from Shure or Denon, they don't look horrendously cheap or nasty.
Their price point becomes a bit more apparent to the touch, where the thin, rubberized cable and bargain basement plastics are quite tangible, even if the build quality is adequate considering the low price. Rubberized plastic sleeves cover the vulnerable junction between cable and earphone and though the plug is a straight vertical job, there has been some effort to minimise it and make it flexible, reducing strain on the socket when you're cramming your player into your pocket.
Canalphones are always a matter of taste. Even though I've got small ears I find them reasonably comfortable for shortish periods and the only real annoyance for me is the noise you get in your ears when the cable is knocked - an issue that seems worse with the EP-200s than with some other phones. Three sizes of 'sleeve' (as TDK terms the rubbery bit that sticks in your ear) are provided and the small size, and light weight of the buds themselves, makes for a pleasant enough listening experience.
Pleasant enough, that is, until you consider the quality of the sound. I've heard worse output from my first generation iPod Touch, but to be honest the Apple earphones supplied with the player could show the EP-200s a clean pair of heals. The TDKs are best with pop and R&B; the crisp sounds of Justin Trousersnake's LoveStoned could have done with a bit more bass, but at least the instrumentation cuts through with something you might just about call detail.
The same goes for the version of Ordinary People on John Legend's Live from Philadelphia album, where the restrained vocals and piano don't have a chance to swamp the earphones. Go to something rockier, however, and things soon fall apart. The title track of Audioslave's final album, Revelations, just sounds weedy until you whack the volume up high, at which point it falls apart in a distorted mess. Let it Roll from Velvet Revolver's Libertad sounds slightly better, but good luck trying to make much sense out of the chorus; it's all an unpleasant mid-range sludge.
I can't imagine that anyone would want to listen to classical or jazz on headphones this cheap, but if you are tempted then I'd suggest you look elsewhere. The EP-200s don't have the clarity or precision for something like Madeleine Peyroux's Between the Bars, while any detail in the achingly beautiful overture from Wagner's Tristan and Isolde is buried in the mush.
We all know you can't expect much at this price point, but if you're determined to buy a pair of canalphones for less than £10 you can do better. The Creative EP-630s, for example, are widely available for under £7 and will easily outclass the EP-200s, not to mention the phones supplied with your iPod. And if you could just stretch a little further, a pair of Sennheiser MX560s will be a blessing on your ears. That being the case, don't buy the TDKs.
Worse than some of the earphones supplied with MP3 players, the EP-200s are to be avoided.