With all the legitimate warnings about hearing damage induced by in-ear headphones, you might think a portable headphone amp is the last thing on-the-go music listeners need. But that’s not going to stop us from praising this tiny doodad. Don’t get us wrong: Listening to music played at high sound-pressure levels will absolutely damage your hearing over time.
One of the most commonly voiced complaints about earbuds is that they don’t deliver enough bottom end; those tiny drivers just don’t have much material to work with when it comes to producing long waves. M-Audio’s IE-20 XBs are the exception to the rule. These earphones pump more bass than many full-size headphones.
Thanks to Apple’s ubiquitous advertising, you can walk around town with wires hanging out of your ears without getting strange looks from passersby. Etymotic Research’s ety8 Bluetooth earphones shorten the wires, but these anything-but-discreet earbuds are guaranteed to draw a few sets of eyeballs your way.
Ultrasone’s iCans feature the same S-Logic technology that prompted us to name the company’s Proline 750 headphones to our 2006 Best of the Best list. However, as wonderful as they sound with an iPod, they can’t displace the Shure E4g earbuds in their respective Best of the Best category.
The relentless snare drum crack on “Jack of Speed” was enough to make some of the lesser earbuds beg for mercy, but the Etymotic ER-6 Isolators delivered it nearly perfectly. More importantly, they served up Beck’s bass with equal authority.
It’s been our experience that you get what you pay for, more often than not. The ExtremeMac FS1 earbuds, however, fall into the “not” territory. The $150 for-sale sign hanging on these little buggers easily qualifies them as the most expensive earphones of the group, but they certainly didn’t sound like it.
Even after finding a good fit, many people have trouble with earbuds inexorably sliding out of their ear canal. Sennheiser thinks it has the solution—it’s called Twist-to-Fit— but we found this invention to be far worse than the problem.
If you know your Wizard of Oz lore, you’ll recall that Ozma was the young princess and rightful heir to the throne of Oz. Exactly what this has to do with audio and aliens is anyone’s guess, but these headphones did take us over the rainbow.