Review: Aural New York Earbuds for iPod
Pros: Very inexpensive physical clones of Apple’s packed-in iPod earbuds, available in colors (black, pink, and blue) not sold by Apple.
Cons: Audio quality and single-colored look aren’t up to the standards of Apple’s originals, which themselves aren’t the most comfortable or full-bodied earphones we’ve tested at their low price level.
Unthinkable three years ago, millions of people now routinely wear the white and gray earbuds Apple packs in with every iPod (iLounge rating: B); they’re an easy way to communicate iPod ownership, arguably somewhat of a fashion statement, and - most importantly - they sound pretty good for free headphones. However, as the popularity of black iPods has proved, not everyone likes Apple’s classic white and gray color scheme, yet the company has lagged behind consumer demand for different colored earbuds. Now Aural New York has stepped in to fill that demand with its Earbuds for iPod ($15).
As it turns out, it’s easier to approximate the outsides of Apple’s earbuds than it is to replicate or exceed their insides. Aural’s plastic shells actually come close enough to Apple’s that - color aside - only an expert would be able to tell them apart. Everything from the earbuds to the cords, in-line cord manager and headphone plug look virtually identical to the ones Apple sold until late 2005; Aural’s have a slightly taller plastic base on the headphone plug than on today’s models, a slightly smaller cord manager, and no “L” or “R” markings, just a white dot on the right earbud. There’s no other major difference; the cord lengths are the same, the six vent holes on each earbud are the same, and the shapes are the same. Like Apple’s, then, Aural’s hard plastic shells aren’t super comfortable, but not awful, either; we wish Aural had improved upon Apple’s design rather than just mirroring it.
So why would anyone buy these over Apple’s? Well, color is the obvious and primary reason. Our black and pink review samples represented two-thirds of the total Aural line-up, with a limited edition blue as the third color. Other than their ear foams - one included set is black, the other white - each of Aural’s color options is a single color from top to bottom, as contrasted with Apple’s buds, which though described as “white” are actually a nicer two-toned design with gray accents and cords. On close inspection, it’s apparent that Aural duplicated all of the possible second tone accent points from Apple’s originals, but chose to keep them the same base color. The results are earbuds that are 100% black, pink, or blue, other than their metallic innards; though this will work for some people, we liked Apple’s two-tone design better.
We weren’t especially surprised to find that Aural’s earbuds fell a bit short of Apple’s base level of audio snuff. Many companies have told us that they’ve had problems matching the quality of Apple’s drivers, which deliver impressive detail and range by packed-in earbud standards, and Aural’s are comparatively flatter. Though most users won’t notice much of a difference, they’re not quite as detailed as Apple’s, and don’t match either Apple’s highest treble highs, or lowest bass lows. Given that Apple’s earbuds are most often chastised for lacking bass and not being comfortable enough in some ears, Aural’s identically shaped, slightly less impressive sounding options offer nothing more in either of those regards.
Of course, Aural’s aggressive $15 price makes the Earbuds one of the least expensive headphones currently available, and for this reason alone, they’ll appeal to some people: currently, the only way to buy a second pair of Apple’s earbuds is to purchase them in a bundle with a $39 or $49 accessory, such as one of Apple’s wired remote controls. The price alone almost led us to offer our standard level recommendation here: from one perspective, what Aural’s created is a cheaper alternative for those who want something that looks and sounds similar to Apple’s pack-ins, in a different color. However, though we believe that those who go in without high expectations will be satisfied, we prefer options that improve upon Apple’s offerings rather than partially cloning them at lower prices; the iPod pack-ins have long represented our “flat B”-level inexpensive headphone, and these undeniably fall a bit short of that standard. Unless you’re really strapped for cash, our advice would be to spend a little more money and get something that sounds or fits better than Apple’s buds, instead.