Review: Apple iPhone Stereo Headset
With the right headphone port adapter, you have hundreds of pairs of iPhone-compatible earphones to choose from. So why would you ever consider buying Apple's iPhone Stereo Headset ($29), a duplicate of and replacement for the pair of microphone-laden earbuds included with every iPhone? Simple: they're familiar and inexpensive, with very good earbud and microphone quality. Our only complaints: they're not right for every pair of ears, and they're still only available in white.
The iPhone Stereo Headset begins with a pair of two familiar white and gray earbuds, a design taken directly from Apple’s September 2006 update to its standard, packed-in iPod Earphones (iLounge rating: B+). These earbuds combine subtle gray silicone rubber edges with narrower diameter and seemingly lighter hard plastic casings than the old iPod earphones, and do not include black foam covers like their predecessors. In some ears, the new design feels softer and more comfortable than before; in others, it feels perpetually loose and unstable.
Generally speaking, iLounge’s editors liked these earbuds in the iPod Earphones, and we feel the same way about them in the iPhone Stereo Headset. For a pair of free pack-ins—or a pair of $29 earphones—they enable iPods or iPhones to produce surprisingly clean and substantially balanced sound relative to other inexpensive earbuds we’ve tested, and though the audio does skew a bit towards the low end here, the added warmth is appreciated. The earphones produce enough bass that you can even hear low-frequency sounds though they’re not seated inside your ear canals; some in-canal isolating earphones we’ve tested are less impressive in this regard. For the price, even if the fit is an issue for some users, Apple definitely did a very good job of delivering the type of sound people want to hear.
Where the iPhone Stereo Headset differs from the iPod Earphones is in a little gray box that dangles at neck level from the right earbud. In one of those design moves that can only be expected from Apple, the box, which is the same width and depth, but three times taller than the small iPod Earphone cord manager it replaces, contains both a microphone and single-button remote control. The microphone is apparent only from a pinhole on one side of the box; the button is the full other side of the box, and apparent only from the clicking sound the box makes when squeezed.
Again, both new parts serve their intended purposes better than one might expect for the price. Though the microphone isn’t spectacular by absolute standards, it does a better than average job of focusing on voices rather than background noises while you talk—this mic’s sound was in the aggregate better than the microphone included with v-moda’s more expensive Vibe Duo earphones. Though the mic doesn’t do an especially good job of resisting wind noise, and can’t actively filter out ambient noise a la Aliph’s Jawbone Bluetooth Headset, callers told us that they were able to understand us more easily, and heard less background interference, than with the Vibe Duo; they also described the mic’s sound as “pretty good” to “good” overall.
The Headset’s integrated button serves several purposes. One click lets you play or pause music, or accept or end phone calls, depending on what you’re doing with iPhone at the moment it’s pressed. Surprisingly, you can even skip ahead a track in your audio with a quick double button press, though there aren’t any alternative double presses, or triple presses to provide more control over iPhone call or music features. Again, these button features are missing from the initial shipping version of the $101 Vibe Duo, and only presently available as a $40 add-on from Shure in the MPA-3c, so their inclusion with the iPhone Stereo Headset is another added bonus at this price level.
Though we would normally be inclined to award the iPhone Stereo Headset a high recommendation given its very good iPhone-specific feature set and sound quality for the price, it’s held back like its iPod Earphones predecessor by fit issues, which make it a less universally comfortable and secure headset for some users than it should be. The fact that Apple only offers them in eye-catching white also continues to be a concern for those iLounge readers who like the sound and design, but fear mugging or just need a less conspicuous color alternative. As with all of our B+ rated accessories, the iPhone Stereo Headset will strongly satisfy the many people it fits, but others will be left seeking alternatives.