In short, while the disadvantage of no screen hasn’t been entirely cancelled out, it’s a lot easier to live with on the new shuffle than it was with the old. That said things still aren’t entirely peach in shuffle land. As Gordon pointed out in his original news story, the implementation of the controls on the earphones themselves rather than an adaptor cable is a real problem, for the simple reason that it restricts what headphones you can use with the device. Prefer Shure, Sennheiser or Klipsch IEMs to the standard Apple models? Sorry. You’re out of luck.
To be fair, third-party ‘phones are expected from Klipsch and Scosche in the near future, and the latter manufacturer has also announced a stand-alone remote-control/adaptor. For now, though, you’re stuck with a choice of the bundled buds or Apple’s In-Ear Headphones.
Let’s be clear: the sound through the bundled buds is no worse than the sound you’ll get through most MP3 players with the bundled earphones. In fact, I’ve heard an awful lot worse in the last few months from Far Eastern competitors. The sound lacks warmth and bass and errs towards the over-bright/tinny side of the audio spectrum, but your ears will not fall off through listening and your music won’t sound utterly ghastly. The worst I can say is that the things will not stay in your ears when exercising, and for a shuffle that’s quite a big deal.
Plug in the In Ear Headphones and it becomes obvious that the new Shuffle is – like the last Shuffle – a thoroughly decent little player. The output is clear at the top end, beefy at the bottom end, and strong in-between. Listening to the spectacularly hit-and-miss Timbaland/Chris Cornell collaboration, Scream, I hear a strong grasp of dynamics, punchy beats and bass notes and enough definition to do justice to the maestro’s trademark, razor-sharp production.