With the right silicone tip selected the fit is very good, and the Apple ‘phones actually do an amazing job of blocking out outside noise, though, as with many in-ear models, there’s a fair bit of cable clatter transmitted into the ear when the wire clashes against buttons or other hard objects. Subjectively speaking, they also seem reasonably loud. Plugging in the Denon AHC-551s I usually use when out and about, I actually had to turn the volume up from the 60 per cent setting I was using with the Apple In-Ear jobs.
The other headline feature is, of course, the in-line remote control. Dangling below the right earpiece it’s impossible to see, but then with only three press-able areas (I can’t really call them buttons) you don’t really need to. You can turn the volume up and down and pause or play tracks and, with a deft double or triple press, skip forwards and backwards through tracks.
Though I found the last function tricky to get working. The best feature is, however, the built-in microphone. It’s not the most sensitive or accurate around, but it’s more than adequate for recording voice memos or making VoIP calls, and with an iPod touch or iPhone you have everything you need to make the most of Fring over WiFi. Sadly, the compatibility of the remote is limited. It’s not, for example, fully functional with the iPhone 3G, and there are reports of glitches cropping up in use, while owners of the first generation touch and pre-current generation nanos should also be aware that their products aren’t supported. In fact, the only other iPods that the remote will work with are the 120GB classic and the brand new iPod Shuffle.
Still, the really good news is that the quality of audio from Apple’s in-ear ‘phones really isn’t bad given the price. In fact, strike that – it’s verging on excellent. Apple’s company line is that the combination of a dedicated low/end, mid-range woofer and a high-frequency tweeter delivers “accurate, detailed sound across the entire sonic spectrum” revealing “details you never knew existed.”
Well, let’s not go bananas – the In-Ear Headphones won’t be worrying the Klipsch Image X5s or even the Shure SE210s for detail – but they are pretty good. There’s none of the separation of bass and treble that afflicts some dual-driver earphones, and you get a coherent, balanced and involving sound, clear across most of the audible range
The biggest issue is bass. I’ve already read some comments complaining that these ‘phones don’t have any, but I don’t actually think that’s fair. What they can’t do is big, snappy, thumping, in-your-face bass, so if that’s what you’re after then you’re going to be left sorely disappointed. Instead, the bottom end is smooth, perhaps a little restrained, but certainly powerful enough to drive a track like Massive Attack’s Inertia Creeps or Kanye West’s Stronger along.