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Hands on: Apple's new EarPods headphones

R. Matthew Ward | Sept. 17, 2012
It's become de rigueur to describe Apple's white earbuds as "ubiquitous" and "iconic". Beyond their ubiquity and iconic status, though, Apple's earbuds have frequently been derided as offering sub-par sound.

It's become de rigueur to describe Apple's white earbuds as "ubiquitous" and "iconic"-and justifiably so. Not only are they almost inextricably linked to the company's iPods and iPhones, but Apple revealed at its recent press event that it had shipped 600 million sets of the headphones, a number that almost certainly makes them the most-used piece of gear in the history of audio reproduction.

Beyond their ubiquity and iconic status, though, Apple's earbuds have frequently been derided as offering sub-par sound. They've also occasionally been praised-despite their mediocre sound quality compared to higher-end headphones, it's amazing that they sound as good as they do considering that designing good earbuds is inherently difficult, not to mention that Apple produces them at incredible scale and includes them with many products at no additional cost.

Apple has clearly invested significant engineering effort in its earbuds over the years. The product's history includes several minor revisions, including the addition of a rubberized ring to help the earphones stay in place, and an inline remote/microphone module introduced to complement the iPhone. The company has also made two attempts at premium, after-market headphones, including the long-discontinued $39 Apple In-Ear Headphones (2.5-mouse rating), and the still-available, $79 dual-driver Apple In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic (3.5-mouse rating)-with mixed results.

Apple's EarPods

All of that is to say that it didn't come as a shock when Apple introduced, alongside the iPhone 5, a completely redesigned version of its classic earbuds, the $29 Apple EarPods. (The name is a cute portmanteau of earbuds and iPod, though it's one that's been used before by the earPod headphone case.) Still, though Apple is known for its willingness to introduce both evolutionary updates and complete redesigns of its existing products, it's big news in the audio world when the most pervasive earbuds of all time get replaced with something that's purportedly much better-Apple says the EarPods have been in the works for three years and boasts that the "audio quality is so superior, they rival high-end headphones that cost hundreds of dollars more."

(In addition to the $29 retail version, the EarPods are also included with the iPhone 5, fifth generation iPod touch, and seventh generation iPod nano, but not the iPod shuffle, which continues to include the previous Apple earbuds.)

Ear-gonomics

The retail version of the EarPods comes in typically minimalist, white packaging that shows off the product in an included white-and-clear-plastic case, which also acts as a spool for the EarPods' cord. (That cord is slightly thinner than that of the previous earbuds.) The EarPods' inline remote/microphone module, located on the right-hand earpiece cable, is slightly larger than that of the previous earbuds, with additional strain relief, bigger buttons that are easier to press, and no visible microphone hole. The left side of the split cable has a cable slider, which can attach to the right-hand cable to adjust fit or to keep the split cord together during storage. The connections between the cables and the earpieces have also gained enhanced strain relief.

 

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