Apple EarPods review

Price when reviewed

There was momentous news on Wednesday night, far more significant than the iPhone 5 or redesigned iPods. After years of inflicting the horror of its white, bundled earbuds on its customers – and their blameless fellow commuters – Apple announced it was finally retiring them, replacing them with a new design: the new (still white, alas) EarPod.

Frankly, this is long overdue. The original earbuds may well be an iconic design, but in terms of sound quality they were sorely lacking. They had non-existent bass, a thin mid-range, were scratchy at the high-end, and sound leaked out of them so badly when the volume was turned up that they seemed almost deliberately designed to irritate others.

Apple EarPods

The new design is a huge departure – they don’t create a seal in your ear like a decent pair of in-ear headphones – but they’re designed to direct the sound in a more efficient way than the old ones.

The main driver points down your ear canal, there’s a port on the side, facing into your ear at the rear of each bud, a port on the outside of the pointing outwards, and another tiny slot at the base of each stem, supposedly for enhancing the bass.

The first bit of good news is that, although there’s still some sound leakage, it’s nowhere near as bad as with the old earbuds, so you can turn up the volume without attracting quite so many disapproving frowns on the bus.

To demonstrate this we positioned a pair of microphones next to each ear, and recorded the residual noise produced by each pair of earbuds, then passed the resulting clips through a spectrum analyzer. The frequency spectrum graph below clearly show the new EarPods produce a narrower band of extraneous noise than the old earbuds.

Sound quality is also hugely improved: there’s actually some bass here for starters – not thumping, pounding bass, perhaps, but the EarPods reproduce tones that reach right down to the depths. The treble isn’t bad either, although vocals do have the tendency to sound a little harsh.

The inline remote, meanwhile, works as well as before, and in back-to-back tests against the old earbuds, the microphone seemed to give a slightly buzzier, more nasal quality to voices. There isn’t enough of a difference for serious criticism, though.

Apple EarPods

There are some negative aspects to the design, though. The highly directional nature of the EarPod design means the colour of the sound changes as they shift around in your ear, and because there’s no rubber trim to hold them in place, they tend to shift around quite a bit. There’s no improvement in build quality either – they still feel cheap and plasticky.

If you listen to a lot of music, then, we’d still advise you to upgrade from the EarPods as soon as possible, and we wouldn’t recommend them as a standalone buy. There are far better headphones around than these for not much more cash – notably RHA’s superb MA350s, which cost £30 (and equipped with an Apple-compatible remote with for £40). However, they’re a very welcome upgrade to the existing bundled buds, both for Apple customers and their fellow travellers.

Basic specifications

Headphones typeEarbud
In-line volume control?yes
Noise cancelling?no
1/4in adapter included?no

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