Generally, for as long as I’ve had mp3 players, I’ve had iPods. Which may be a questionable decision in itself (the only non-iPod I’ve owned was a 2GB Samsung model to tide me over when my second-generation Mini experienced an alarming software error which caused its contents to be replaced by Aerosmith’s back catalog), but it’s always been fun replacing the stock earphones with more exciting models. As much as I live and breathe music, I really only use my iPod while walking and as a result, headphones for it have never really factored heavily into my budget. Accordingly, none of the models I’ve purchased has cost over US$30.00.
But, surprising as it may be, they have all been rather good. So, in direct contrast to the top-of-the-line speakers featured in my last two articles, here’s a list of my favorite budget headphones that I’ve owned. They may have their flaws, but all of the models listed below have served my purposes, even if only for a few months.
Skullcandy Riot – RRP US$19.99
Utah-based Skullcandy has always been as much about eye-catching design as performance, and its least expensive earbud [tied with the Chops and Ink'd models] is certainly no exception. Available in a range of slick colour combinations, it produces a crisp, detailed sound with its 11mm speakers, while cancelling out external noise. Cons? Only that the cord is kind of heavy compared to other models on this list, but at 1.3m it’s long enough for them to stay in perfectly fine whilst walking or running. Sick, bro.
Panasonic RP-HJE200-A – RRP US$19.99
One of Panasonic’s many mid-range earbuds, the RP-HJE200-A initially attracted me because of its color (Tiffany blue) and the interesting variance of textures between the cord (slinky and metallic), the buds themselves [opaque plastic] and the earpads (transparent rubber). I’m not shallow at all, right? At 11.5mm, the speakers are larger than those of the Riot, but the sound isn’t as all-enveloping; even though it’s perfectly adequate, it lacks the Riot’s bass response, which makes it sound slightly tinny in comparison. It also has the shortest and most confusing cord ever, a claustrophobic design riddle which may look cool but causes major annoyance when you’re listening to music on a train and it gets caught on whatever else is on your lap, or when you realize that if you are even of average height you actually have to hold your MP3 player up while walking. But if that doesn’t worry you, it’s still good value for money.
Griffin TuneBuds – RRP US$19.99 – US$29.99
Sound quality-wise, Griffin’s TuneBuds are a combination of the Riot and the HJE200-A; heavy bass to rival the Riot, but with a slightly metallic sound to the treble reminiscent of laptop speakers. They don’t fit quite as nicely in the ear as the other two – maybe it’s the thicker earbuds — but the cord is ideal, long, lightweight and perfect for exercise. The TuneBuds Color ($19.99) are sold in five appealing pastel colors, designed to complement the 2007 iPod Nanos, while the standard TuneBuds Mobile ($29.99) come in basic black or white [bonus points for naming the black "Mysterious-Government-Helicopter Black" ]. Unfortunately the TuneBuds have a tendency to, well, die – a pair of TuneBuds Color lasted only a few months in my possession before the left one pegged out completely and the right one needed constant twisting of the jack to produce any sound whatsoever.
Skullcandy Smokin’ Bud – RRP US$29.99
The Smokin’ Bud is a step up from the Riot in that it has an in-line volume control affixed to the cord, so if you want further control over the volume of whatever jams you’re pumping, all you have to do is slide it one way or the other. Obviously, you’ll still have to adjust the volume on your MP3 player if you want to make it louder overall, but it’s a nice touch. Otherwise, its performance is very similar to that of the Riot, the snug-fitting earbuds also making use of Skullcandy’s noise-elimination technology.
And, of course. . .
Apple Earphones with Remote and Mic – RRP US$29.00
We all know what these sound like. They’re entirely adequate but feel uncomfortable and ill-fitted inside the ear after the more streamlined shape of the earbuds. They’re also fragile, with my first pair lasting only marginally longer than the TuneBuds before one of the speakers fell out. Like the Smokin Bud, Apple’s current model includes an in-line volume control, but the Bud’s definitely superior in terms of sound quality and durability. As evidenced by the iPod’s popularity among runners, the cord is long and light, and in general [with the exception of the comfort factor] they’re really quite good. But if you’re an iPod owner, have a spare $30 lying around and aren’t entirely satisfied with the sound quality of the stock earphones, looking at other options is definitely recommended.