I'm going to preface this review by stating upfront that I am not an audiophile. I don't know that I ever was one, but the abuse I put my ears through as a teenager playing a drumkit, and the amount of time I spent in my early twenties hanging out all night at really, really too loud clubs and raves has certainly rendered any fidelity discerning ability I may have once hypothetically had moot. Also, I'm going to assume that you know the deal with in-ear phones, that you understand how far in they need to go to fit properly and therefore perform properly, and that you're ok with all of this.
So, about two weeks ago I'm in the gym, getting started for my 4x a week hour long elliptical machine freak out session when I realize the left side of my Apple iPod In-Ear Headphones has gone dead.
This seemed like an appropriate excuse to finally pick up a new pair of headphones. I'd been thinking of doing so for months but really never had a good enough reason to spend the money considering I had a pair that worked just fine.
About six months ago the earbud piece on one side of the Apple buds came disconnected from the plastic, but a bit of superglue fixed that. It happened again a few months later, and I employed the same fix, and they had worked really pretty much flawlessly since.
I really can't complain about the Apple earbuds. I had them for around 3 years, and they work surprisingly well for the money. They're perfectly loud enough, insert just deep enough into the ear to provide some isolation, are comfortable, and held up to me wrapping the cable around an iPod nearly every week day.
I have heard complaints about the Apple earbuds and their lack of bass response, but I really encountered no such problem. And, honestly, I suspect the problem for these people is they're not positioning the earbuds properly in the ears. I've been wearing foam earplugs and the like, things you actually stick way down deep into your ears, since I was a teenager. I do notice though that people without experience placing things into their ears are, quite understandably, a little hesitant to really do what needs to be done. Namely, cramming the things in there. It's kind of like when I watch people get freaked out about an eyelash in their eye after 15 or so years of daily contact lens use.
So, the verdict on the Apple earbuds is: They're great, they sound really quite fine to my ears, and for the money you'd be hard pressed to find a better option. That said, on to why I chose to go with something new.
After having a pair of Shure E2c Sound Isolating Earphones in my Amazon wishlist for months, the morning I needed to make the purchase, I spent a few minutes looking around at other options and ultimately, for no discernable reason, decided to go with a pair of Etymotic Research ER6i Isolator Earphones instead. The prices are about the same, the reviews are both consistently positive, and so I called an audible and went with it.
I'll say that after a couple weeks of everyday use, I'm happy with my purchase. I don't think I can say I'm thrilled, but that's really only because I was fairly certain I wouldn't be thrilled before I even tried them. Going back to what I mentioned about about the fidelity of my hearing, I pretty much confirmed what I suspected: I can't tell the difference in sound between these ~$100 headphones and the ~$50 headphones I was using previously.
So let's talk about what I can comment on, if not their exquisite sound quality. First, the ambient noise isolation is pretty top notch. They're rated at between 15 and 35dB of isolation, and I can't argue with that. I've stood on a New York City subway platform with these things in my ears, with an Eluvium record playing at maybe half total volume, and I couldn't hear the train pulling into the station. It's a weird sensation, feeling the rushing air, but not hearing the roaring noise, or the roaring music it usually takes to drown out the MTA's finest. I've got a trans-atlantic flight coming up in a few weeks and I'm pretty confident these earphones are going to go a long way towards quieting the noise of a Boeing 777 and maybe even helping me get a few hours of sleep.
Related to the isolation is the depth to which these buds reach in the ear, and what that means for them staying put. Wearing these things in the gym, for an hour of relatively intense activity, with the accompanying sweat, the buds stay satisfyingly where I placed them. This is a pretty big improvement over the Apple earbuds, which find a way of sliding out to the edge of the ear every ten minutes or so, letting in the sound of my fellow gym members, and out the sound of the silly metal music I'm listening to at 6:30am.
The earphones ship with a number of different sizes of eartips, a pair of which are foam and operate like standard foam compression earplugs. I've tried them all out and settled with the smallest size of the rubber eartips. They also came with a set of extra filters and a filter replacement tool, which apparently you're supposed to use periodically to swap out dirty filters for a fresh pair. The Etymotic site has a bunch of replacement eartips and filters available, and I'll probably pick up a set as I can already see the eartips I'm using accumulating gunk. A quick wash in warm soapy water might do the trick though.
So what, aside from my own inability to discern any increase in sound quality, don't I like? Well, the cord might be a touch on the long side, at 5 feet in length. The cord also feels a bit lightweight, and it could stand to be wrapped in something a bit more substantial. These add to the overall light weight of the earphones, but I'm a bit concerned I could snap the cord at some point down the road.
In all, I'd recommend the Etymotic Research ER6i Isolator Earphones to anyone looking for a pair of in-ear headphones that offer a high degree of ambient sound isolation, high sound quality, and a comfortable fit.