Review: Apple Computer iPod nano In-Ear Lanyard Headphones
Company: Apple Computer
Compatible: iPod nano
Pros: A combination of an adjustable iPod nano necklace with Apple branded and styled in-canal earphones that deliver much better sound (on both bass and clarity) and seal than the iPod’s packed-in earbuds - for some ears. Clean design that offers a fashion-neutral, uncluttered way of wearing and hearing the nano.
Cons: Because of the bulbous shape of the earbuds, some users will have problems with their fit and seal, and have less positive experiences with the sound balance and long-term wearability. Only usable with the iPod nano; will require a new pair of headphones if you switch iPods, which may bother some users given the price tag.
Roughly two years ago, we reviewed Apple’s iPod In-Ear Headphones (iLounge rating: B), the company’s $39 ‘official’ alternative to the earbuds packed-in with every iPod. The silicone rubber-tipped In-Ear Headphones appear to have been developed as a response to two common iPod owner complaints: Apple’s hard plastic pack-ins are uncomfortable, and their sound balance - particularly the bass - could stand to be improved.
At the time, our reviewer praised the headphones’ sound quality and style, but noted that they tended to fall out of ears rather than stay in, unlike Sony’s widely praised MDR-EX70 series of inexpensive in-canal earphones. Subsequently, our readers had mixed results with the Apple phones, with some reporting the exact same phenomenon, and others finding them to fit well and sound great. The fit and sound issues were apparently widespread enough that Apple released an online support document designed to help people enjoy them.
Now Apple has released the iPod nano In-Ear Lanyard Headphones ($49), a nano-only combination of the iPod In-Ear Headphones with last year’s iPod nano Lanyard Headphones (iLounge rating: B-). The original Lanyard Headphones attached a chrome mount to the iPod nano, adding an adjustable white fabric necklace with integrated standard iPod earbuds that reduced cable clutter and dangling. We described the add-on several months ago as nicely designed, but too expensive at $39 given its simple components. The new In-Ear Lanyard Headphones offer several advantages over the prior Lanyard version, but we think that their earbuds will divide iPod users in much the same way as the standard In-Ear Headphones did two years ago.
The positives of the In-Ear Lanyard Headphones are several in number. If properly inserted and comfortable in your ear, they deliver exactly what Apple promises: clean sound with bass that’s superior to the iPod’s pack-ins. We’ll go so far as to say that we really liked the way the In-Ear Lanyard Headphones sounded - the treble-mid-bass balance is great, and the clarity is at least appropriate for a $50 pair of headphones, if not better. Moreover, this reviewer found both the earpieces and the lanyard necklace to fit well. Three different-sized sets of silicone rubber caps are included in the package, and the mediums provided a snug but soft fit and good seal. Outside noise was effectively screened out without causing discomfort. Additionally, we think that the iPod nano is even more ideally suited to neck wear than the iPod shuffle, and the Lanyard Headphones’ adjustable necklace gives you the ability to reduce its dangle and easily see the nano’s screen.
But not all of our editors feel the same way about the In-Ear design: for example, one notes that his girlfriend adores the design, but that he physically can’t use them. It’s clear from both the divided opinions of our reviewers and readers that Apple’s In-Ear design isn’t comfortable or great-sounding for everyone; despite Apple’s inclusion of the three cap sizes, the bulbous shape just doesn’t work in some ears. Those who have problems sealing the earpieces in their ears also report related audio quality issues, namely a lack of bass that creates “tinny” sound. The smaller, plug-like buds favored by Sony have led to more universally positive fit results. And then there’s also the fact that the In-Ear Lanyard Headphones are nano-specific. Do you really want to spend $50 on a pair of headphones that work with only one iPod?
That said, given the choice between the $49 In-Ear Lanyard Headphones and the original $39 Lanyard Headphones, we’d pick the more expensive ones. Neither of Apple’s offerings has proved a universally perfect fit with different ear sizes and shapes, but unlike their predecessors, if the In-Ear Lanyard Headphones fit, they’re soft and comfortable enough to wear for hours. They also provide superior audio quality to what you get for free with every iPod, and offer the added convenience of a necklace mount. Though the price is, like the prior Lanyard Headphone offering, enough to discourage some purchases, we feel comfortable recommending them to the majority of our nano-owning readers.