LAS VEGAS, CES 2012 – Amazing to think Sony has never offered an armature-driven earphone before; now that they are, they’re diving in huge time with eleven models. Aussie new kid on the block Audiofly just have one in their new lineup, but it’s a doozy, and it sounded absolutely stunning; we fully expect these to be a huge hit.
Let’s get two big facts out the way right now: Yes, these Scosche IEM856m canalphones ($250) look a little like several of the canalphones in Monster’s lineup (eg. the Beats Tour), mostly because of the flat, ribbon-like cable; no, they’re not anything like any of the Monster earphones they somewhat resemble. In fact, one big detail makes them very different from almost any other IEM on the market.
Almost all mic-equipped canalphones that can be had for about $100 use moving-coil drivers to produce sound, as is the case with all the previous IEMs in this review series. But the Ultimate Ears 600vi ($120) are different — this set employs a single tiny armature in each ear. Armatures generally allow for a more neutral sound with better definition than their moving-coil brethren, and that’s exactly the case with the 600vi. In fact, this set uses pretty much the same excellent drivers as in the now-discontinued, $180 SuperFi 5vi we reviewed early last year.
And yes, apart from the V-Moda Vibrato, the 600vi is $20 more than the other earphones in this review series — but we think the extra Jackson is worth it.
Maybe you’re not going to buy a pair of earphones based on the way they look; maybe you’d rather spend your moolah on a pair that came with exquisite performance. What if you could have both? In spades? Here you go: With their deep, bone-tingling bass and blue-blood looks and manners, the Klipsch Image S4i earphones ($100) is the Prince…of Spades.
Let me begin this review by saying, while I’ve found some love for certain models, I don’t really care for most canalphones: They’re uncomfortable, and while I love the idea of plugging a foreign object into my ear and having that object deliver magical sounds just like an owl delivers a Howler, I usually wind up being disappointed with either the sound or the fit. So, with that in mind, it was time to try the Etymotic mc3 ($100).
This set, with a three-button remote on the cable and four sets of super-sealing, deep-seating eartips (two flanged, two foam), was now tasked with being tested by me. May the Force, that I’ll probably have to use to shove them into my ears, be with them.
I always feel like I should be wearing diamond-studded sunglasses, walking around in a silk bathrobe or drinking Cristal from actual Bohemian crystal whenever I sink a pair of V-Moda’s babies into my ears. This doesn’t have anything neccessarily to do with how they sound, but rather because V-Moda has a knack for creating earphones with exotic looks and a luxurious feel to them that also appeal to the other senses. And so it goes with the V-Moda Vibrato Remote earphones ($130).
So you’ve got your new iPhone 4S, and now you want to talk to Siri (and maybe friends) and enjoy some tuneage. Step one: Donate those pathetic white buds that came with your iPhone to your favorite charity, if they’ll take ‘em. Step two: Get yourself a snazzy pair of microphone-equipped canalphones — earphones that fit snugly in your ear. Why? Because a good set of canalphones are the best accessory ever made for an iPhone; they’ll create a seal that will block out ambient noise while enhancing sound coming from the earphones, especially bass — which means better conversations with friends (or Siri), and better music.
Around $100 seems to be the point at which there’s a big jump in quality; also, most in that range are now equipped with inline volume controls (in addition to the play/pause and track-skip controls like the ones on Apple’s stock buds).
We’ve assembled an Apple Store’s worth of canalphones at that level, and we’ll be reviewing them over the next several days. Up first is Sennheiser’s MM 70 iP earphones ($100).
Boy, those blue-shirted Apple employees must be going nuts just trying to keep up with all the different in-ear headphones out there. Still, can’t hurt to have a few more at the party — especially if they’re from a manufactrer with a rep for awesome bang-for-buck.
The ATH-BT03 (pictured above) is going to grab all the attention. It’s an $80 wireless Bluetooth headset that does the whole phone and music thing and looks wicked small.
Audio Technica’s other anouncement yesterday, the less flashy ATH-CK400i (jeez, their marketers must have attended the same fun product-naming class the marketing peeps at Sony did) is simply an in-ear set with an inline controls and a mic — but it’s priced at a measly $60.
It’s nice to know that when I get caught in the rain with my headphones on, I don’t have to anxiously hide them if I’m wearing the Monster iSport Immersion In-Ear Headphones ($180). Did your kid spill his Kool-Aid on them? They’re machine washable!
The JayBird Freedom JF3 ($99) Bluetooth wireless headphones are a successful attempt to build upon a paramount technological concept: take something good and make it great — or in this case, take a good pair of IEM headphones and ditch the cord. It’s like a musical bris without the rabbi — or the baby.