- Tough build
- Powerful bass
- Very comfortable
- Better sound available for less
- Coarse mids
- Review Price: £99.99
- Metal/wood construction
- 9mm dynamic drivers
- Mic/remote housing
- Braided cable
- Right-angle jack
Attaching big names to audio products has become a popular trend. The Dr Dre-endorsed Monster Beats headphones are now some of the most popular around – even Lady Gaga has leant her name to a pair. Now it’s Bob Marley’s turn. House of Marley’s new range of earphones and headphones is huge, and the Freedom Zion Mist sits at the top of the in-ear line.
While the Zion Mist earphones have audiophile aspirations, part of the House of Marley image has little to do with sound quality. Wherever possible, they are made from recyclable materials, and the packaging they come in is itself recycled.
The earbuds are made using a mix of aluminium and wood, in line with the “natural” leanings of the brand image. The back bit is aluminium, while a ring of wood sits near the end, softening the look of these earphones. This wood appears to be sonically inert, there for the look rather than to colour the sound.
We think this wooded approach works better in the black version of the Zion Mist, where the wood is stained dark. In the light silver version we reviewed, it has something of the flavour of a piece of pine furniture from Ikea. It is a proper little bit of wood though, with natural grain visible – and House of Marley says they are FSC-certified too, meaning the wood used been reaped in a sustainable manner. A cynical mind might question the need for this wood when it, as far as we can tell, is just there for the look.
The darker edition looks pretty moody
This dual-material construction works extremely well in use, turning the part most susceptible to wear into the strongest. The back is ergonomically moulded to your finger grip, making taking them in and out of your ears feel that little bit better. It’s a pity the cable is not removable – a very desirable feature in an expensive earphone – but the quality of construction is excellent.
Common to all the House of Marley headphones, the 52in cable is braided and daubed with the colours of the Rastafari movement, yellow, green and red. This is the only part of the Zion Mist that is aggressively Marley-themed – this model is classier than most of the range, although the whole Freedom line-up is rather more mature-looking than the deliberately outlandish Jammin’ models. Still, the design is unusual enough to stand out among other sets a similar price, such as the Shure SE215 and Phonak PFE 012.
Looks aside, the Freedom Zion Mist earphones are pretty standard fare, spec-wise. They use single 9mm dynamic drivers claiming a 20Hz-20,000Hz frequency response. At this price, many manufacturers start to use balanced armature drivers rather than the dynamic type. Although one doesn’t necessarily offer better sound quality than the other, armature drivers tend to have a higher precision sound though with less bass. However they are better-suited to the demands of the high-end headphone buyer.
They come bundled with a selection of single- and dual-flanged rubber tips. No foam tips are included, but we found the supplied tips extremely comfortable. Getting a fit with these earphones is blissfully simple – unlike some other pairs you can simply bung ’em in. This is likely because of the tiny holes bored into the underside of each earbud, which act as an escape route for the onrush of air caused when inserted into your ears.
House of Marley also includes a handsfree and remote housing, designed to work with iOS devices, and a carry pouch. In keeping with the eco-friendly vibe, it’s made from hemp and leather. Much nicer than the average, but not in itself a reason to buy.
Branded earphones tend to have one thing in common, besides an inflated price, and that’s bass. A fat low-end is the currency of most these sets. And for many listeners, that’s exactly what’s wanted. Analysed with a more critical eye though, this sound signature is often problematic, as big bass needn’t cost big bucks.
The House of Marley Freedom Zion Mist (now there’s a mouthful) earphones do gravitate towards this trend, but not as badly as some. There is a disproportionate bass emphasis, but it’s kept pretty low down the frequency spectrum. As such is provides the meaty thud many people lust after without muddying the sound too much. Analytical these earphones are not, but neither are they sludgy.
Up top, the performance isn’t too bad either. Some of the impact of the treble is spoiled a bit by the bass’s big booty, but the Zion Mist handle trickier sound well. Splashy cymbals rarely sound harsh as the top-end is accomplished enough to cope with harsh or sibilant source material without dimming detail much.
The mids are what let these earphones down. Ideally, you want a mid-range that’s smooth and warm, to give vocals body and weight – especially important when contending with an artificially-enlarged bass, as heard here. However, the Zion Mist mid-range is a bit coarse, leaving voices that should sound silky smooth sounding a little bit gravelly. They won’t turn Katie Perry into Marianne Faithful, but will make her voice less easy on the ears.
A failing in this part of the frequency spectrum is common in earphones that offer “ear candy” rather than accuracy, as sparky highs and a big fat bottom-end will impress more quickly than a more considerate, balanced tone. This is a problem for the Zion Mist set though, because, at £100, better performers are available. Quite a few, in fact.
The Phonak PFE 012 deliver less bass, but are better in other respects, and are the much better choice for discerning ears. Then there are the dynamic driver Shure SE215 earphones, which have a removable cable and much better mids. However, it’s on shop shelves that the House of Marley headphones are most likely to do battle with rivals, so the Monster Beats Tour are perhaps their biggest rival. Cheaper than these big-name buds, the Zion Mist don’t fare too badly in comparison, especially as they’re significantly more comfortable to wear for long periods.
The House of Marley Freedom Zion Mist are earphones laden with conspicuous good intentions. They’re made largely from natural, recyclable materials; their maker makes a point of giving to charity; and the memory of Bob Marley is plastered all over them. However, in reality they’re not far removed from the Dr. Dre Beats range that arguably inspired them. There’s solid bass and treble performance here, but the coarse mids mean you can get much better for your money.
Score in detail
Design & Features 8
Sound Quality 6
Unlike other sites, we thoroughly test every product we review. We use industry standard tests in order to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever accept money to review a product. Tell us what you think - send your emails to the Editor.