Lauding Jobs's Least Loved Product: The Basic Apple Ear-Bud Page 2
How Good Are Apple Ear-Buds?
I don't usually spend much time evaluating ear-buds, but I have done a fair bit over the years. The best ear-bud I've ever heard is the Yuin PK1, which simply has astonishing performance for a headphone of this type. But, it's $159 and it's rather inefficient, so you almost need a portable headphone amp to drive it to solid listening levels. The Yuin PK2 ($79), which is more efficient, isn't nearly as good sounding. Sennheiser has been making a full line of ear-buds for a long time in their MX series, and their top-tier 'buds have been a solid recommendation from me for as long as I can remember.
After reading Guttenberg's article, and feeling it wasn't quite the whole story, I borrowed a representative sampling of ear-buds from HeadRoom (thanks guys) and did some tests. In listening, I found only the currently available Sennheiser MX 580 ($39) close to the Apple 'buds.
Simply put, they were clearly the best sounding ear-buds of the group. Clear, punchy, articulate, reasonably faithful to the human voice ... no they weren't anywhere near reference quality, but they were a solid listening experience ... superb for an ear-bud. (It REALLY helps if you press them a little into your ears for a seal.)
Below you'll find the measurements for: two stock Apple iPod ear-buds ($19); Sennheiser MX 560 ($28); Sennheiser MX 680 Sport ($49); Comradz NW-STUDIO PRO ($149); Yuin PK2 ($79); and some iLogic Earphones by Best Brands sold amongst the trinkets in the check-out aisle at Wal-Mart ($3.99).
The frequency response of the Apple 'buds is clearly flatter from 300Hz to 10kHz than any of the other 'buds, and if you ignore the lack of bass extension, they measure quite well, and not just for an ear-bud. They measure fairly well against ALL headphones. I'd put their sound in the "good for $79" ... as long as you ignore the bass problems.
Though shelved down from the treble somewhat, the Sennheiser MX560 may have a little bit better bass extension. The rest of the field was sad, sad, sad.
Looking at the THD+noise plots, it is evident that all these cans have problems compressing air linearly, very likely due to the poor seal and acoustics of this type of placement in the ear.
The rest of the graphs ... well, I can hardly make out WTF is going on. Garbage. Some of the worst measuring headphones ever. I'll let you tell me what they mean in the comments.
Summary coming up right after this ragged mess.
Stock Apple Ear-Bud ($19 no longer available separately)
Notice how the two Apple 'buds measure virtually identical. This shows excellent manufacturing.
Sennheiser MX 560 ($28)
Had I not done the comparisons to write this article, this would have been my recommendation. Evidently, I had been underestimating them myself. The Apple sounds better to my ears, and is less expensive.
Yuin PK2 ($79)
The PK1 is the best sounding ear-bud in my experience, but the one I could get my hands on quickly had a bad driver. The PK2 I borrowed from HeadRoom had a significant channel mismatch, was just okay sounding, and is quite expensive. I've heard of reliability problems with this line, and would have trouble recommending them anymore.
Comradz NW-STUDIO PRO ($149.95)
A recent entry in the ear-bud category, Comradz claims, "The NW-STUDIO PRO headphones reproduce high-resolution audio across the full spectrum by eliminating the standing waves that impair the faithful reproduction of audio sources recorded in a studio." Didn't sound or measure very faithfully.
On to the summary ....