Listen to the Music: Some headphones for your Foggy Bottom ways

I’m a pretty picky fellow when it comes to headphones. I’ve gone though approximately a pair a year since I started college (2004), all in search of the perfect pair. I want something that is comfortable, excludes a lot of outside noise, and sounds good with the music I listen to. Aesthetics aren’t really a part of the discussion. Over-the-head headphones won’t cut it for me, not because they don’t look good, but rather because they aren’t too portable. I’ve got to find a pair that works well on the metro and aren’t a pain to carry around.

Well, the local DC spokesperson of AT&T, Margarita Noriega, recently gave me a trio of headphones and one Bluetooth speaker to try.  I wasn’t told to say anything, and I’m at liberty to write whatever I want (as you’ll see below). The idea was that perhaps I could find a pair worth recommending to the readers of this fine blog.

After some pretty extensive listening, I come with two pairs to avoid, one that I love, and one Bluetooth speaker that would be awesome were it not for the price tag. All three headphones came equipped with a mic for use with a smartphone, though I didn’t get the chance to test those. So these reviews are based purely on sound.

iFrogz Luxe Microbud


First thing’s first: these look pretty cool. Blue is my favorite color, and that’s what they happened to give me. So I was ready to like the headphones from the get go. I said aesthetics don’t mean anything, but I wouldn’t mind having a great pair of earbuds that look good too. Unfortunately, these didn’t pass the “great pair of earbuds” portion of my requirements. The sound from them is heavy on the mid-range, with almost no bass or high treble. When I was listening to some hip-hop, it sounded as if the bass was coming from a cardboard box. Really, most of the listening range was pretty muffled.

That said, there are a few reasons you might consider these earbuds. First, they are incredibly comfortable. When I put them in my ear, I could hardly tell they were there. They come with three different sizes of tip as well. Secondly, they’re really cheap. You can pick them up for under $15 on Amazon, and that’s not too shabby. Considering the price, they might make a good pair of back-up earbuds to carry around in your bag in case something happens to your main ones. That said, I think you can probably find better earbuds in the same price range.

Pros:
Cheap
Comfortable

Cons:
Very thin sound
Almost no bass
Same with the treble

Recommendation:
If you don’t mind $15 for a backup pair, they’re fine. Otherwise, avoid.

Skullcandy Fix


The Skullcandy Fix earbuds claim to solve a pretty common problem: headphones that fall out. In my normal everyday life, this isn’t something I have trouble with. But that’s usually because I use earbuds that go a bit further into the ear (think this, rather than this). Ever since I got the first pair of Apple earbuds that came with my first iPod, I’ve avoided this type of headphone without a tip. I’ve got small ears, and these one-size-fits-all things give me all sorts of trouble. So I was leery of these headphones from the beginning.

But you know what? They fit pretty darn well. I still don’t love the no-tip style (there’s nothing to really block outside noise), but I could get behind these. They’ve got a little hook-like design that kept them firmly in my ear when I was wearing them. That said, since they don’t block out noise they weren’t ideal for the metro. They did have a pretty good sound quality, but I didn’t think it quite lived up to the $35 you’d expect to pay to obtain a pair.

So this seems like another “Don’t buy,” doesn’t it? Well, in many ways it is. But I can think of one reason to pick these up, and it could certainly justify the asking price. If you go to the gym a lot, you may be used to having troubles keeping your earbuds in. I know it’s a constant struggle for me, as jogging tends to jostle them loose. These Skullcandy earbuds wouldn’t suffer from the same fate at all. They’d stay put the whole time. And if I’m at the gym, I don’t demand the best sound quality ever, so these would work perfectly.

Pros:
Stay put in the ear
Decent sound

Cons:
A bit pricey ($35) for their sound
Don’t block out outside noise

Recommendation:
If you need a pair of earbuds for everyday life, you can do better than these for $35. If you need a pair for jogging or the gym, they’d be perfect.

Moshi Vortex


These were unquestionably the winners of the three sets of headphones. But what impressed me is that they weren’t simply the best of those I tried, but a legitimately good pair in general. The first thing I noticed was how good they look. They come with a nifty little carrying case, are made of metal (though don’t feel too heavy in the ear!), and have one of those nylon-looking cords that doesn’t tangle too easily.

But then I put them in, and I loved what I heard. Firstly, I could hear almost nothing around me (and this continued to the metro), and better still those around me couldn’t hear what I was listening to. I’ve got bad hearing, so I tend to listen rather loudly (yes, I know, probably self-defeating). People sitting right next to me couldn’t hear as I blasted music at a level that was even too loud for me. Complaints be gone!

The sound is clear, if a touch heavy on the bass. The packaging touts the great bass response, and it is right. Unlike other reviewers I’ve read, however, I didn’t feel the bass came at the detriment of other levels. I felt like I could hear everything well, but at times I just wish there was a bit less bass.

But the hesitation for some people may come at the price. I’ve found these a few places, generally going for around $80. Increasingly, $80 doesn’t seem crazy for a pair of headphones, but some people may still balk. For what it’s worth, I think these justify their price tag. They are well-built and aren’t going to break any time soon, and the sound is excellent.

Pros:
Great sound
Block outside noise well
Cool style
No-tangle (low-tangle?) chord!
Comfortable

Cons:
A bit pricey (~$80)
Heavy (though not uncomfortable)
Sometimes a bit too much bass

Recommendation:
If you don’t mind paying $80 for earbuds, snag yourself a pair of these. I love them and hope to keep using them for quite a while.

Jambox by Jawbone

This won’t be a full-fledged write-up, but I got the chance to play with the Jambox by Jawbone Bluetooth speaker. It comes with a headphone cable too, and that might be useful. In some of my tests, the Bluetooth connection was a bit static-y, but it others it was perfect. The little box (it can easily be held in the hand) produces a lot of sound, with phenomenal bass. You can use it as a speakerphone, too, which is kind of neat. The big downside is price, though. At $180, this is quite the spendy purchase. But if you’ve got the cash to spare, it’s a cool little thing. Perfect for the person who has the great musical taste but never hosts the party. Just bring your MP3 player and this jambox, and you’ve got enough volume for the whole party.