Software, Hardware, Silverware

EarPods: Better Late Than Never

While most blogs probably have their hands on iPhone 5, I’ll talk about something a little more within my means: EarPods. Audiophiles will want to skip this review.

I first got my eyes on EarPods when I linked to a leak out of Vietnam. I was pretty certain that leak was legitimate, and at the time I said so because of a rule I came up with all by myself. Let’s call it ‘Defomicron’s 1st Law’: if purported Apple product makes current Apple product look like outdated pile of poo, then purported product is probably authentic. In the case of EarPods, this is certainly true.

I never hated Apple’s old earphones; I was not in the camp that claimed they had unforgivably terribly audio quality or were a child of Satan. I’ve owned several pairs of Apple’s earphones, and can say that since 2001 they have definitely improved in sound quality and durability. Calling each step along the way gradual, however, might be overstating it. EarPods are orders of magnitude greater than any earphone Apple’s ever created, including the $39-turned-$79 in-ear models.

EarPods on the Pier

For the first time in a $30 pair of buds, I can hear bass. Not teenager-in-a-Honda-at-the-stoplight bass, mind you, but bass that enriches the music in the way it was meant to. If you’ve been hearing your music through an older pair for a while as I have, you might have forgotten by now that ‘Oxford Comma’ isn’t supposed to sound like it’s being drummed on aluminum pie pans, but trust me when I say you won’t want to go back. According to Apple, slits in the bud and step of the EarPod allow for the acoustic chamber to breath and give us that bass. I can independently confirm that if you cover a slit, audio quality degrades instantly.

Apple says they spent three years developing the EarPods, and I believe them. For one thing, Apple has kept the old design way too long. For another, EarPods really are that good. The new shape both looks straight out of 2001, and fits much better1. Despite the body being entirely made of hard plastic, I find them very comfortable. I can leave EarPods in for hours at a time without any semblance of ear strain, a feat unrivaled, in my case, by any other bud.

While I can’t comment on long term longevity, I will affirm that EarPods look like they’re going to outlast their predecessors, if only for the absence of the rubber rings that tended to fall off. Since an EarPod is made entirely of plastic, there doesn’t appear to be a weak point in the bud itself. On the cable side of things, Apple has added a second sleeve wherever it connects with another piece. Hopefully this additional insulation will prevent the cable from tearing as it has suffered from for years. EarPods certainly seem poised for the test of time.

The new remote control is heavenly. It has been lengthened and widened, and the buttons given a much more satisfying click. Around back, gone is the microphone grill. Instead, we get a glyph that I find rather awkward. As it turns out, the microphone grill on older earphones was a placebo, meant to comfort those of us who just aren’t quite comfortable speaking into something that isn’t mesh. That’s a roundabout way of saying that audio quality is the same as or better than before, even without creature comforts. Oh, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a future refresh of EarPods removed the microphone glyph altogether.

It would be wrong of me to detail my experience with EarPods without revealing the one weakness I’ve found, so here it is: a lot of my earbud usage is on a bicycle, which has consistently been a week point for them. Apple’s old earphones, while usable, were distorted by wind interference and struggled to make themselves heard over the noise. EarPods are, if anything, worse. The microphone works just fine on a bicycle, even for Siri. So there’s that.

EarPods are a marked improvement over all of its predecessors. I think it signifies a rededication at Apple to doing every little bit right. As with the Lightning connector, Apple is looking at each individual aspect of their creations and making it the best it can be. Are EarPods the greatest earbuds that have ever been made? Naturally not. But they are the best $30 buds you can get.

  1. Notably, my sample pool is two. ↩︎