Company: Cellpoint Connect
Model: Flamingo Music
Compatible: All iPods, iPhone*
Cellpoint Connect Flamingo Music Headset
Complicating something simple typically requires a very good justification, which is why we didn't want to write off Cellpoint Connect's Flamingo Music ($50) before considering its reason for being. Earbuds, we realize, can easily be tugged out of your ears. Apple's small earbuds are amongst the most susceptible to this problem -- at least, when placed in larger ears and subjected to jostling motions. Some companies, including Sony, have developed tug-resistant, asymmetrical cables, as well as plastic outer ear clips. Others, such as V-Moda, hope that their in-canal earphones' silicone ear tips and proper shapes will keep them in place.
Flamingo Music approaches this challenge from a very unusual perspective: it takes the standard circle-shaped earbud and attempts to make it bigger. In fact, it goes a lot bigger, with eight different pairs of mostly T-shaped rubber plugs that attach to the top of the earphones and attempt to lock into the grooves in your ears. You can pull out the plugs that come pre-installed in the Flamingo headset and keep testing ones until the earbuds stay snug even when tugged on. Cellpoint calls this system “EarClick2,” an improvement on an earlier system it tested in cell phone headsets, and at least in our experience, it worked—mostly. You can toss the extra plugs and the earphones into an included fabric storage bag when they’re not in use.
Basically, the rubber plugs combine with the oddly shaped, plastic coated earpieces to try and lock in with three parts of your outer ear while the speaker rests largely in the concha. There’s a lot of matte black plastic here to put in your ear, so Cellpoint obscures it with a large shiny plastic cover that is sold in either chrome, black, red, or white. To the Danish company’s credit, you don’t look like a fool with these earpieces in; they’re actually pretty attractive by big glossy earphone standards. But like Ultimate Ears’ custom-fit earphones, you can’t help but feel like there’s an awful lot of extra plastic here relative to other options. A picture on Cellpoint’s web site makes them seem smaller than an iPod shuffle, but in reality, they’re closer in size, which makes Flamingo Music one of the largest earbud-style designs we’ve seen.
On a positive note, the Flamingo Music earpieces were more stable than earbuds like Apple’s, which make no attempt to grip your ears. Properly set up, they resist small tugs and the typical jostles of active use, but not the motions used to deliberately remove them from your ears. In both of these regards, they weren’t any better than typical in-canal earphones we test, which sit more fully inside your ears and have more surface area to resist tugs. They also weren’t as comfortable; Flamingo Music’s reliance on semi-hard rubber mounts and hard plastic pads places a little pressure on your ear, which we didn’t prefer to the softer silicone commonly used in in-canal earphones. In this regard, Cellpoint’s design reminds us of the clip-on headphones we’ve previously seen from companies such as Razer; you have to really dislike canalphones in order to add this much plastic to keep bigger speakers on your ears. Canalphones also have another couple of major advantages: their speakers are as close to your eardrums as possible, and typically help you isolate outside sound. Flamingo Music offers basically no isolation—because of its billing as an active lifestyle earpiece, it’s supposed to let you hear some outside sounds—and in our testing sounded more treble-heavy than Apple’s earbuds, with a bit less bass. It wasn’t noticeably clearer or otherwise better. These differences could as easily be traced to the relative positions of Apple’s and Cellpoint’s speakers relative to the ear as any difference in their drivers; it suffices to say that these sound good but not great, unless you’re a bass fan, in which case you’ll be disappointed.
A couple of other small things are also worth mentioning. Flamingo Music uses fabric cables that look good but are substantially impacted by microphonics during normal motion. Consequently, Cellpoint includes a shirt clip to minimize cord movement, but another type of cabling might have done better. Additionally, the company uses metal jackets for its headphone plug and left/right cable splitter, which look and feel nicer than many of the plastic parts we’ve seen in competing products. The headphone plug is iPhone-compatible, but the headset doesn’t include a microphone or control button; a separate $60 version called Flamingo Mobile includes a microphone. Overall, while Flamingo Music’s design as a more ear-secure, active lifestyle earphone makes it more worthy of attention than 50% of the me-too earpieces out there, we weren’t impressed enough by the mounting design, comfort, or sound quality to consider it worthy of our general recommendation. The goal of stability is a noble one, and reasonably achieved here by Cellpoint, but with diminished ear comfort and enhanced cable microphonics that would make us continue to lean in favor of in-canal earphones instead. Consider these if you hate canalphones, need stability, and don’t mind having extra large, glossy earbuds in your ears to accomplish your alternative.