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What I Use: Apple EarPods

When Apple announced the iPhone 5 and new iPods at a special event last month, there was only one new product I knew I’d want to buy immediately: The new Apple EarPods, a long-overdue replacement for the company’s previously terrible earbud headphones. And here’s a shocker: The new EarPods are pretty great.

Apple Ear Pods 01

Apple has been bundling earbud-type headphones with its mobile devices since the original iPod in 2001. Through three iterations, they’ve always delivered the same terrible sound and, for me, at least, the same terrible in-ear fit. That’s the problem with in-ear headphones, of course: Everyone’s ears are different. And where one set of headphones will work well for some people, they won’t work well for others.

I suspect the EarPods may prove problematic for some people as well. But these are the first non-customizable in-ear headphones I’ve ever used that not only fit well in my ears, but sound pretty great as well. I’m both surprised and impressed. (Apple sells a separate in-ear headphone for $79 that provides three different silicon headphone tips so you can find one that works well for you.)

Apple Ear Pods 03

According to Apple, the EarPods achieve this success via a completely new design that is obvious the moment you see these ‘buds. Instead of the simple, plain design of the previous earbuds, the new EarPods look like miniatures from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” with a tapered design and new driver ports on the side in addition to the normal speaker port. The result is more sound delivered into the ear, and less out into the world. (That said, like most earbud-type headphones, the EarPods do still leak some sound.)

And it’s not just more sound, it’s better sound. The EarPods won’t replace high-end and expensive headphones, but they are considerably better than the earbuds that Apple’s competitors supply with their smart phones and MP3 players. (Apple now supplies EarPods with each new iPhone 5 or iPod purchase.)

Apple Ear Pods 04

They also fit better, as noted, though a bit more loosely than you may like if you’re used to true in-ear headphones, especially the types that come with different or formable tips. But they don’t pop out in normal use—mostly walking in my case, but they’re a good choice for working out too—as the old earbuds did. If you travel by plane or train, you’ll want better noise cancelling, as the EarPods don’t block out environmental sounds at all.

As with its other headphones, Apple includes an inline remote with microphone on the EarPods, but this will be of limited use unless you’re using it with an Apple device. On my Lumia 900, the middle button on the remote worked as expected to toggle Play/Pause. But Volume Up/Volume Down do not work, and any phone call attempts are met with a painful whine. Ah well.

Apple Ear Pods 06

So why use and recommend these ‘phones? First of all, they’re cheap. But if you’re on the go a lot, the EarBuds are also incredibly small and add zero weight. So they’re perfect as a fallback, or for those times when you don’t need noise cancelling. You’ll never notice them in your bag. (Apple supplies a sort-of storage/travel case with the EarPods, but I just wind up the cables and toss them in my bag for better portability.)

Finally, the sound quality really is quite good. In this age of overly bass-heavy, Beats-style sound playback, the EarPods deliver wonderfully accurate, rich, and unprocessed sound. They’ve worked well with my laptop, my Kindle Fire HD, and my Lumia 900, though again that latter usage is a bit problematic because of the lack of volume control and microphone. It doesn’t matter: These EarPods will be a regular part of my travel kit going forward.

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