Review: Elexa Consumer Products iBlink
There's a fine line between between a genuinely cool iPod or iPhone accessory for kids and a novelty item, and Elexa Consumer Products' iBlink earphones ($30) are on the novelty side of that line. The core idea, and one we've seen in a couple of earlier products, is to add pulsing LEDs to earphones so that the beats of music translate into flashing lights. Put the earphones in and they flicker to whatever you're hearing; you can enjoy the visuals yourself by looking down at an in-line box that has three lights of its own built in, plus a rechargeable battery and a power switch.
To Elexa’s credit, iBlink is available in six different colors, so you can choose from either white or black plastic with white, blue, or pink LED lights inside. Each pair includes three sizes of rubber tips for small, medium, and large ear canals, and a USB charging cable is included for the battery pack. These choices are improvements on Design Annex’s 2005 product iBeat, which didn’t have the same variety of colors and relied on a much larger and less convenient battery pack with plastic iPod-specific cradles. Elexa’s take is barely more intrustive than a standard pair of earbuds, though its earpieces are chunkier than most and feel like only decent plastic—they need to be large enough to accommodate three sets of lights each, which expands their size well beyond what’s needed to hold their low-grade speakers.
By low-grade, we mean to say that iBlink’s sound quality isn’t great. It’s very flat, bass-bloated, and nowhere near as good as Apple’s free pack-ins; the modest isolation that the silicone tips offer is their only arguable advantage, but the earbuds are big enough that they’re not going to nest totally inside your canals. And then there’s the performance of those lights. Unlike iBeat, which included a sensitivity dial to help improve the quality of its strobing action, iBlink is set for one level of sensitivity that in most of the songs we tested led to a fairly chaotic flashing that might as well have been random. Only on songs with simple, distinct bass beats does the effect work as expected; tracks with more complex beats quickly turn into flickers of light at varying intensities, none especially distinctive or interesting.
Moreover, iBlink’s design contrasts with iBeat in its approach to showing off the strobing effect: iBeat placed its lights in its cabling so that the user really glowed and could really enjoy the strobing. iBlink’s lights are mostly in a place where other people can see the lights but not hear the music, while the user can only see the lights on the in-line box. Thus, they’re not especially satisfying to anyone—wearer or viewer.
Given the $30 asking price, iBlink isn’t a bad option for kids, but it’s not a particularly good one, either. With a sensitivity switch, this pair of earphones would be a little more satisfying, but ultimately, using the cords for lighting strikes us as more fun than just a few user-visible lights, and the flashing earbuds may well evoke more curiosity than admiration. If that’s what you’re aiming for, and willing to compromise on sound quality to achieve, you might want to consider iBlink anyway.