Apple Earpods Stereo Earphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Sep 16, 2012.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Youtube review: Apple Earpods Stereo Earbuds Review by Dale - YouTube

    Note: Since the Earpods are fairly bass-heavy, similar to the Philips L1 or some of the Beats etc. headphones, I use iPod/iPhone Bass Reducer EQ exclusively, and all comments below are based on that EQ setting. The bottom line on EQ for me is not to declare whether anyone should use it, what kind to use, how much to use etc. I discuss it here to suggest that many of the reviews which rate the sound quality of the Earpods significantly lower than I do are probably missing the potential of this earphone, just because they don't try the EQ settings. Bass Reducer is the obvious choice for me, but there are other options as well. Caveat: When using the Earpods in bed, bass is reduced because the earpieces don't fit the same as when sitting or standing up, so in that case I turn bass reduction off.

    When I first played the Earpods on my iPhone with EQ disabled, using the music track Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens, I was shocked at how much bass the Earpods were pumping out. I tried the Bass Reducer EQ setting, which cleaned up the sound pretty well, but I was concerned that reducing the upper bass that way would virtually eliminate the middle and lower bass. It didn't. The resulting sound I would call "light", as compared to headphones that are more or less neutral, or "dark". The EQ'd upper bass had proper impact and was not devoid of warmth, and even the lower bass was audible. I ran some test tone sweeps (Note: everything from here on is with Bass Reducer enabled) to see what the resulting bass was really like, and I estimated it's down about 3 db at 60 hz and 6 db at 30 hz. The 30 hz tones sound good, but the response drops off rapidly below 30 hz and there's nothing useful at 20 hz and below.

    The Earpods' midrange is generally good and uncolored, and playing about 100 music tracks at random, I noted that vocals on a couple of tracks were slightly grating, as though there were a small peak or resonance somewhere in the upper mids. I didn't find anything serious in the tone sweeps, so I'm inclined to view this as a combination of some midrange emphasis in the Earpods coinciding with an emphasis in those tracks, doubling up as it were. I hear the Earpods' treble as strong compared to most of my full-size headphones, yet with my two worst-case tracks for sibilants, the sibilants weren't bad at all. So the overall treble strength is probably a factor in the aforementioned perception of midrange emphasis, and although the Bass Reducer EQ has made the sound nearly ideal from the midrange down, it too is undoubtedly a factor in the perception of a strong treble and emphasis of some vocal characteristics.

    Although I doubt that anyone is going to use the Earpods with a headphone amp, I did just that to see what the effect was. It tightened up the bass enough that bass reduction was not necessary with the amp, but it increased the brightness slightly, and that made the sound a little too bright - not good. And that amp is a PA2V2, which is not a bright headphone amp in my experience. Using the Earpods on a desktop computer was more satisfactory, running from the sound card using the standard headphone jack. The bass cleaned up in this case too, but there wasn't as much brightness increase. I'm accustomed to most headphones sounding slightly to moderately different going from the iPod/iPhone to a headphone amp, but the Earpods sounded a lot different, suggesting that there's something about them besides size and price that makes them work better with the iPod/iPhone alone, sans any additional amps.

    It will be interesting to read any reports of how the Earpods sound with non-Apple music players. I did play many music tracks while walking around outdoors, and the sound was excellent, very hi-fi, and more forgiving of irritations from bad recordings that would be more apparent indoors where it's much quieter. The Earpods look identical to the Apple earbuds from the miniplug end up to the earpieces, where you see the different earpiece design on that end of the cable. The small control box is on the right side, not the left side. My Apple earbuds' controls are also on the right side.

    In other reviews I've done I've included the following music examples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to other reviews and see how the Earpods compare with each individual track.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled fairly well by the Earpods.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note for the Earpods are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts won't overwhelm you since they're soft and well in the background, but you can feel a little bit of the weight they carry.

    Blues Project - Caress Me Baby (1966): Rarely mentioned, but one of the greatest white blues recordings ever. The loud piercing guitar sound at 0:41 into the track is a good test for distortion or other problems. Handled fairly well by the Earpods.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled pretty well by the Earpods.

    Buffalo Springfield - Kind Woman (~1968): A Richie Furay song entirely, rarely mentioned, but one of the best sounding rock ballads ever. This will sound good on most headphones, and sounds good with the Earpods.

    Cat Stevens - Morning Has Broken (early 70's): A near-perfect test for overall sound - this track will separate the best sounding headphones from the lesser quality types. Nothing specific, except that almost any deviation from perfect reproduction will stand out with this track. Sounds pretty good on the Earpods.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the Earpods render the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Def Leppard - Bringin' On The Heartbreak (1981): MTV goth/pop/metal at its best - good ambience and high energy - the better headphones will separate the details and make for a good experience. Lesser quality and the details tend to mush together. The Earpods play this perfectly.

    J.S. Bach - E. Power Biggs Plays Bach in the Thomaskirche (~1970): Recorded on a tracker organ in East Germany, the tracks on this recording have the authentic baroque sound that Bach composed for, albeit the bellows are operated by motor today. The Earpods play the tones seamlessly through the upper limits of the organ, which cover nearly the full range of human hearing. Of special note are the pedal notes - tracker organs have low-pressure pipes and don't typically produce the kind of impact around 20-35 hz that modern organs do. A headphone that's lacking in the low bass will sound especially bass-shy with this type of organ, and while the Earpods have good tonal color in the deeper notes, they're slightly shy in bass weight.

    Jamming With Edward - It Hurts Me Too (1969): Intended originally as a test to fill studio down time and set recording levels etc., this was released a few years later for hardcore Rolling Stones fans. Although not as good technically in every aspect as the Chess studio recordings of 1964, and in spite of the non-serious vocals by Mick Jagger, this rates very high on my list of white blues recordings, and sounds absolutely delicious with the Earpods.

    Jennifer Warnes - Rock You Gently (1992?): The strong deep bass percussion at the beginning of this track has been cited as a test for weakness or distortion in some very expensive headphones. Having played this track many times now, I'm highly impressed with the Earpods' bass reproduction and detail throughout the track. This is a perfect example of where Bass Reducer EQ turns the overpowering and boomy (boosted) bass into the musical quality bass that the artist recorded.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has some loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical on some headphones. The Earpods provide excellent reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in, for maximum detail effect. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrumental separation and detail, and the Earpods play them extremely well.

    Ladytron - Destroy Everything You Touch (~2009): Featured in The September Issue, this song has heavy overdub and will sound a bit muddy on some headphones. Sounds pretty good with the Earpods.

    Milt Jackson/Wes Montgomery - Delilah (Take 3) (1962): The vibraphone is heavily dependent on harmonics to sound right, and the Earpods play it very well.

    Pink Floyd/Dark Side of the Moon - Speak To Me (1973): Strong deep bass impacts will be heard and felt here.

    Rolling Stones - Stray Cat Blues (1968): Dirty, gritty blues that very few white artists could match. On some headphones the vocals and guitar lack the edge and fall more-or-less flat. If you're a really good person, playing this song will probably make you feel nervous and uneasy.

    Tony Bennett - I Left My Heart In San Francisco (1962): Frank Sinatra's favorite singer. Highest recommendation. With some of the best headphones, the sibilants on this recording are very strong, but they're not bad with the Earpods.
     
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2012
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    I revised my review to include a note about using the Earpods in bed, where I expect they would be used frequently. In that case bass is reduced due to the 90 degree change of listening angle, and the looseness of fit that's inherent in the Earpods' design. So when using the Earpods in bed I turn bass reduction off to get a more natural sound. I also added a music track example by Jennifer Warnes that perfectly illustrates the Earpods' bass emphasis, and how good the bass reproduction is when bass reduction is turned on.
     
  3. RobinHiFi

    RobinHiFi Super Moderator

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    So better than the old Apple Earbuds but not stunning?
     
  4. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    I can't compare them to Apple earbuds because there's no basis for comparison.
     
  5. RobinHiFi

    RobinHiFi Super Moderator

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    I don't understand?:confused: How do you mean "no basis" - I feel like I have missed something.

    I could never get the old ones to stay in my ears so I always replaced them immediately.
     
  6. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    The old earbuds have earbud sound. No bass, for one thing. The new earpods not only have bass, it goes all the way down with quality and impact like one of the better hi-fi headphones that have strong bass. It's a whole different world. Comparing old and new side by side for fit, neither has a tendency to fall out of my ears even when tilting my head down and shaking it quite a bit. So here's my guess: If the old ones don't stay in the Earpods won't either.
     
  7. RobinHiFi

    RobinHiFi Super Moderator

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    I see what you mean, the old ones were very poor. I'm sorry to hear you don't think they will fit (I don't have that bit of the ear that keeps earbuds in) because I probably can't even try them properly. I can hold them in position but I like to give portable products a bit of a test on the way to work or having a quick walk. Good for Apple for having a go at something better than the old free buds, which made some people very angry having spent so much on the equipment they came with.
     
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2012
  8. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Of course I can't be absolutely sure my comparison of fit will hold true for others, since the earpieces are a different shape. But I think they're close enough in that respect that it will be true for most people.
     
  9. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    I got my first 'included' Earpods with the new iPod Nano yesterday. No Apple controls, lighter bass, more treble. Not a huge difference, perhaps 2 db difference on each end. I don't know if this is going to hold up consistently in production, but since the first Earpods were already treble-happy, more treble is not good.

    Side note: One review site was reporting that the new iPhone 5 had significantly less volume output than the iPhone 4, and while I can't verify that, the new iPod Nano has every bit as much volume, dynamic range, and sound quality as the year-old or so iPod Touch.

    New iPod Nano first bug: I loaded 2 groups of video clips, about 100 clips, less than one(1) gb total. When the headphone is not connected each video in the first group plays at normal speed and each video in the second group plays at double speed. All were recorded off of DVD's on the same computer to iPod format using the same demo software. When I plug in the headphone the latter videos play at normal speed.
     
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2012
  10. RobinHiFi

    RobinHiFi Super Moderator

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    :D Very odd video fault/glitch!

    Strange that there would be such a noticeable difference (even if it is a small one) between the Earpods. Might just be that the cable is different - could be more copper in the cable with 3 button controller?
     
  11. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Very likely it's something like that. Even earphones are pretty complex these days. On the double-speed video, it's obvious something in the video content is triggering that reaction, and what worries me is how all these computer devices are looking for such triggers, which in many cases mean nothing. It's kinda like a false virus alert that keeps on quarantining an important file you need.

    On a similar note, I wish Apple had provided a way in the user settings for the ipad and iphone NOT to self-identify as i-devices, so that websites looking for those identifiers and forcing my device into a useless "mobile" screen could be denied and I could view them normally. This has nothing to do with flash or other services, merely the mobile identifier. As a current full-time software developer, I'm constantly amazed at the bad decisions Apple and others make on my behalf.
     
  12. RobinHiFi

    RobinHiFi Super Moderator

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    I agree - I know Apple, Microsoft, et al. want to help but too much help is just as annoying as not enough.
     
  13. wetfdh

    wetfdh New Member

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    I think iphone is very good. But they earphone is so simple. Just because the brand. So it's rich!
     
  14. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    The new earphones are excellent.
     
  15. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Got the new Lightning to 30 pin cable tonight, to connect the new Nano to analog headphone amps. The sound from Nano to cable to FiiO LOD to amp is exactly the same (using Shure 1840 to test) as iPod Touch to LOD to amp, except the Nano output is perhaps 2 db stronger.

    Both of the connections I described completely bypass the i-device volume control. Interestingly, with the Nano to Lightning to LOD to amp, you can still see the volume slider on the Nano screen and the Nano's buttons change the slider position, but no changes get through to the amp. This is a good result.
     
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