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Opinion: In defense of Apple's EarPods

updated 08:25 am EDT, Thu May 29, 2014

Apple EarPods provide a great listening experience at small cost

The ink hasn't even dried on Apple's acquisition of Beats and Dr Dre (Andre Young) and Jimmy Iovine, both newly anointed executives at Apple have already made a public gaffe a piece. Firstly, we saw Dr Dre quaffing Heineken beer and bragging about the deal before it was made official. Then just late yesterday, in an interview with Walt Mossberg at the Code Conference, Jimmy Iovine publicly criticized Apple's pre-packaged headphones (its EarPods) as being for little more than "to see if the sound [on the device] works." While it might have been a casual off-handed quip, it wouldn't have amused the team responsible for developing Apple's EarPods. Nor is it something you would ever expect hear coming from an Apple executive, indicating that this union may take a little while to become fully settled.

Apple's white earphones shipped for many years with its iPod line and iPhone models through to the iPhone 4S. In fact, they are still sold with the iPod classic and the iPhone 4S, so are yet to be completely superseded by Apple's newer EarPods that first shipped with the iPhone 5. Thanks to the widespread popularity of the iPod, coupled with Apple's early iTunes marketing that that heavily featured the white earphones, its earphones have become iconic and synonymous with the brand. Unfortunately, as many people know, the white earphones did not sound good at all. In fact, I often used to quietly cringe when I would see people using them, as I knew that even a relatively modest outlay would provide listeners with a superior listening experience.

Apple SVP Eddy Cue, who appeared live with Jimmy Iovine at the Re/code conference, defended the EarPods that ship with Apple's newer products as being the best pre-packed earphones that are on the market. At the risk of incurring the wrath of audiophiles out there, I totally agree with Cue, and I think it is long past time that the myth of Apple's included earphones producing poor sound is put to rest. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I would sooner listen to Apple's EarPods, than say Beats own Solo HD headphones, which we have previously reviewed. While one cannot argue with the massive success that Iovine and Dr Dre have achieved with Beats headphones, the audio reproduction of the headphones is not what purists would describe as being particularly well-balanced. They are, however, well-designed, well-made, beautifully packaged and exceptionally well-marketed.

Before writing this story, I compared Apple's EarPods with a set of $80 Sony XBA-1 balanced armature earphones, as well as the Harman Kardon $130 AE-S earphones included with the HTC One (M8) Harman Kardon Edition. They held up remarkably well, much more so than they might have any right to. In my view, dollar-for-dollar, Apple's EarPods (which retail for $29 when purchased separately) are the best earphones that you can buy bar none. While the Sony XBA-1s and the Harman Kardon AE-Ss produced more bass (partly due to their in-ear design), the tone and overall balance of the Apple EarPods is superior. The Harman Kardon earphones produce 'big' sound, with extended bass response, but strictly speaking, they are not especially well-balanced. Compared to the Sony XBA-1s, the Apple EarPods produce a larger, more pleasing sound stage.

Apple's EarPods are certainly much more than a way to test if your iPhone or iPod works, and to write them off as such is simply wrong. They produce a very decent listening experience and the sooner people understand that, the better off they will be. So much so, that for some people, justifying the outlay on an expensive set of Beats headphones (or any other set of premium headphones) may not stack up from a value-for-money perspective.

As for Apple's acquisition of Beats, as I have previously outlined, it has become quite clear that Apple was particularly interested in the Beats Music streaming service. It is also fascinating to learn that Apple intends to keep both the Android and Windows Phone versions of the app alive, while HP will also continue to ship products co-branded for the next 18 months or so, until its license expires. Apple will also keep the Beats headphone brand alive and said it will eventually have both the Beats and Apple audio engineers collaborating on headphones in the future - these could well be the first Beats headphones I might seriously consider buying, particularly if Jony Ive his design team has a hand in future designs.

In the meantime, let's hope that the somewhat shaky starts made by both Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine will quickly be consigned to the past. They both have a lot to offer Apple in the vital music space, and the deal may yet work out to be a masterstroke if Beats and its people are able to quickly acclimate to the Apple way.

By Sanjiv Sathiah



By Electronista Staff
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Comments

  1. msuper69

    Professional Poster

    Joined: 01-16-00

    I'm afraid this purchase might turn out to be a 3 billion dollar mistake. This dope's stupid comment doesn't help.

  1. pairof9s

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 01-03-08

    I agree, msuper69...a lot of headaches are going to come for the sake of not having to start up a home brewed subscription service. My guess is that Dre will be gone in 12 months and Iovine within 2 years.

  1. pottymouth

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 11-19-03

    First thought: maybe Apple will be able to add some actual quality to back up the Beats brand name.
    Second thought: why bother? Beats have always been garbage and they still sell like hotcakes.

    The streaming branding is where the real money is at. An Apple/Beats partnership there is a win, even if the Beats service has been relatively unsuccessful so far.

  1. robttwo

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 11-15-05

    Apple just got conned.
    Hard to imagine Jobs doing this — he would have just developed a better solution to WHATEVER THE HELL they are trying to do with this acquisition.

  1. coffeetime

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 11-15-06

    How I see it is Apple does not need to waste $3 billion on Beats. Apple is a capable company from the beginning and it can produces quality products from its own lab. The key is hiring talent people, not buying Beats. To me buying Beats = Apple's lack of self-confident in creativity.

  1. coffeetime

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 11-15-06

    Unfortunately Cook does not have the vision Jobs has to challenge workers going to the next level in creativity. Cook has the money to buy visions that other companies created. The same goes with Microsoft's CEOs.

  1. iBricking.com

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 12-18-07

    I'm sure we all remember a time when Apple executives routinely badmouthed Intel processors, in private (email exchanges, etc.), in public (keynote addresses, etc.), and in advertisements ("burn, baby, burn," etc.). Then Apple signed a deal to use Intel chips exclusively in the entire Macintosh line.

    They'll get over these EarPod comments.

  1. bobolicious

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 08-15-02

    ...it will be interesting to see if streaming is widely introduced how it might help the artists creating content, which Apple has valued in the past. One reason Bandcamp has become such a success due to dwindling artist compensation as a result of streaming services. If Apple streaming accelerates migration away from the Apple ecosystem could it actually hurt the company...?

  1. Mr. Strat

    Junior Member

    Joined: 01-23-02

    Like these two music experts would know what real music is supposed to sound like

  1. Gazoobee

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 02-27-09

    So much hate ... (and thinly disguised racism) on this thread.

    Thanks to the author for saying this out loud. I get so tired of the endless "Apple's earbuds suck" comments even though they are demonstrably very good actually. It seems like it didn't work to change anyone's perception however, as half the comments above me are some form of "Beats suck because they are base-y and I don't listen to that kind of music," or "Apple's earbuds always suck" kind of stuff.

    I'm always fascinated by the inability of the human animal to detect when it's beliefs are subjective, and when they are actually based on some sort of facts or science. Knee-jerk subjective comments are the rule of the day in the "age of idiots" I suppose.

  1. Gazoobee

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 02-27-09

    Originally Posted by iBricking.comView Post

    I'm sure we all remember a time when Apple executives routinely badmouthed Intel processors, in private (email exchanges, etc.), in public (keynote addresses, etc.), and in advertisements ("burn, baby, burn," etc.). Then Apple signed a deal to use Intel chips exclusively in the entire Macintosh line.

    They'll get over these EarPod comments.

    I feel like this comment is quite the exaggerated misrepresentation of what actually happened.

  1. Gazoobee

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 02-27-09

    Originally Posted by pottymouthView Post

    ... even if the Beats service has been relatively unsuccessful so far.

    It has the potential to go much further now with the Apple servers and money behind it.

    For instance Beats streaming service is USA-only at this point. If they simply allowed people in other countries to access the service, they could easily quadruple their customers.

  1. iBricking.com

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 12-18-07

    Please elaborate, Gazoobee, on where the exaggerations are. I'm not challenging you; just trying to understand. We're all kind of communicating in soundbites here.

  1. Steve Wilkinson

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 12-19-01

    @ Gazobee -

    Yes, what transpired over Intel is one of the big misconceptions, which is still quite popular. It was Intel that changed, not Apple. The big elephant in the room was power consumption, and once Intel wised up and tackled that, Apple went their direction, which had a number of other benefits to boot.

    I wrote about it back in 2006:
    http://www.cgwerks.com/has-apple-finally-awoke/

  1. Steve Wilkinson

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 12-19-01

    I've always thought the Apple ear-buds weren't THAT bad either. I've tried more expensive ones, but have been disappointed. I hate the in-ear type, which is what many of the higher ranked ones are. And, I'm not going to 'cans' when I'm away from home. So, when I need to use ear-buds, I'm pretty content with Apple's.

    I'm also wondering if they didn't go through a 'cheaper' phase at some point. I had a pair that came with one of the fairly early iPods which I used for a long time. Maybe some of the ones leading up to the current version weren't as good?

    That said, I typically listen more to podcasts these days, and typically use a BT headset, as I'm not particularly concerned about their audio fidelity.

  1. Vulpine

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 11-18-11

    There seem to be kudos for the streaming service, yet a lot of panning when it comes to those who developed that streaming service. While Dr. Dre and Iovine may both dislike Apple's current headphones one way or another, they had the wherewithal to get the licensing needed to bring a much broader library to the streaming market. I'm betting that these connections are what Apple really paid for more than any hardware from the manufacturing side of the company.

    However, by buying into that manufacturing, they no longer have to pay someone else to produce Apple's earphones, either.

  1. Lifeisabeach

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 05-25-10

    Originally Posted by GazoobeeView Post

    So much hate ... (and thinly disguised racism) on this thread.



    Racism? Really? I don't see it. Not in this thread. Care to defend that allegation?

  1. Mike Wuerthele

    Managing Editor

    Joined: 07-19-12

    This thread is attached to a news item on the forums' parent site. Careful with language and allegations, please.

  1. climacs

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 09-06-01

    I couldn't tell you how good (or not) the quality of sound is from these earbuds because they fit me HORRIBLY. Always halfway falling out of my ears no matter how I twist and turn them. If I really jam them in, they might stay for a while but then the sound is muffled. In a slightly looser position, I can hear them better but then they start falling out of my ears again.

  1. Flying Meat

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 01-25-07

    Yep. I have the same complaint as climacs. One size/shape does not fit all. I've been pleased with the earbuds I bought since they have a selection of 3 sizes of soft rubber "gasket" that stay put pretty well.
    I was able to keep the Apple earpods in my ears long enough to know the sound quality was pretty good, and at that price point, a great deal... If I didn't have to worry about turning my head and having the things fall right out. It's either, have plastic surgery to make my ears fit the earpods (it becomes something less than a great value at that point), or buy a decent 3rd party offering.

  1. sdp4462

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 03-21-09

    This is amusing since the beats headphones are typically rated "middle-of-the-pack" along with Apple's latest earbuds.

  1. jwdsail

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 06-05-00

    I think the sound quality of Apple's headphones is a touch better than Beats headphones, actually.

    Durability of both Apple and Beats headsets (actually most all I've tried the past 4+ years) leave much to be desired.

    I'm not rough on my tech. Heck, I still have an old c.1982 walkman that has criss-crossed the globe w/ me, that works great. Still, can't get a set of earbuds to last more than 3mo w/o catastrophic failures at the stress-relief points...

    Sigh.

    I don't see the point in this acquisition. Their headphones are ok, I guess, but better than Apple's? Not the one's I've tried. Streaming? Shrug. I think the fad of *renting* music will evaporate as soon as music consumers wake up to the fact that paying between $50 and $100/yr to *rent* music is one of the biggest scams on music consumers in years. The brand? Meh, the Beats brand may resonate with some people, but more so than Apple's? I don't see it. The people/talent? Sure, they may bring some tighter entertainment industry relationships that *could* help Apple w/ some "Project X" in the pipeline.. But, two incidents before the reception dinner is over, seems to point to this being a rocky, and perhaps short marriage.. It almost feels like this wedding was planned by GRRM, rather than Apple...

    Shrug. Guess we'll have to wait and see.

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