Review: Griffin EarJams (Updated)
Pros: Inexpensive way to add some isolation to Apple’s stock iPod earphones, and change their sound; EarJams resemble Sony’s popular MDR-EX71 headphones, include nice gray carry case.
Cons: Not as comfortable as just using a pair of Sony’s headphones; changed sound is bass-heavy in an inexpensive and unimpressive way for listeners who prefer balanced audio response from headphones.
Like Griffin Technology’s recent PodPod car mounting solution, the company’s new EarJams are a simple, inexpensive and low-tech solution to a relatively common iPod owners’ problem. At first blush, EarJams appear to be little more than plastic shells that snap on to Apple’s packed-in, modestly uncomfortable iPod earbuds, transforming them into in-canal earphones with richer bass. Three sizes of rubber ear pads are included in each EarJams package to create a comfortable seal between your ear and the hard plastic shell.
But if you’re familiar with different sorts of headphones and realize what Griffin is really trying to accomplish with the EarJams, the concept becomes only a step shy of great: in essence, EarJams attempt to convert Apple’s free earbuds into Sony’s MDR-EX70/71 series earphones, which remain amongst our (and many others’) very favorites in terms of look, fit and isolation for the dollar. And we’re not talking about the commonly available black EX71s, but rather, the rarer white ones that American and European importers have been bringing over from Asia at a premium price (~$50). The similarity between Sony’s and Griffin’s products cannot be coincidential: Griffin’s gray rubber ear pads are an almost spot-on match for Sony’s, which many users (including us) have found to fit exceptionally well in their ears.
By selling the EarJams for $14.99 - lower than the cost of most full replacement earbud sets - Griffin is providing the most inexpensive possible route to enable iPod owners to “upgrade” their headphones while preserving their distinctive white color. And with EarJams attached, the iPod buds do look and sound a lot like the EX70s and EX71s, for better or worse. When you snap the plastic and rubber EarJam parts on to the iPod’s earbuds, a larger sound chamber is created and thus the iPod earbuds’ acoustic properties change, creating a more midrange and bass-heavy response at the expense of Apple’s crisper treble sound.
This isn’t a good thing for all users. Serious audiophiles often pooh-pooh the EX71s because of their low range-tilted sound and “muddy bass,” but both the black and white versions of Sony’s earphones have proved popular with mainstream users who prefer bass-heavier audio response from their headphones. As we tend to use more expensive and better-sounding headphones with our own iPods, we personally found the sound of the EarJams-enhanced iPod headphones to be a bit too bass-rich for our liking, but that’s a matter of personal taste, and typically one that people who use inexpensive headphones won’t mind. There’s no question that the EarJams’ rubber inner ear pieces add a bit of isolation to the iPod headphones that wasn’t there before, though not as much as is achieved with Sony’s EX70/71s.
But while the Earjams’ look and sound were similar to Sony’s products, feel was another issue, though again a potentially subjective one. The EarJams just weren’t as comfortable in our ears as we had hoped, and ultimately came nowhere near the high standards set by the EX70/71 series. On a positive note, they created greater inner ear comfort by using the Sony-alike soft rubber inserts, and the sonic “seal” was certainly enhanced by a bit. Unfortunately, the edges of the EarJams’ hard plastic shells rubbed up against our outer ears, detracting from inner ear comfort.* That’s an unfortunate reality of Griffin’s design, and likely any design that attempts to add on to Apple’s ear buds. Far from feeling better than Apple’s stock ear buds, the EarJams have to add bulk (and unfortunately added rough prong-like edges) to the iPod’s buds in order to clasp their outsides. Unless you have big ears, these edges will come into contact with your ears where the standard iPod buds used to hit them, only minus Apple’s soft foam inserts.
[* Update November 10, 2004: Following our review, Griffin sent us updated versions of the EarJams, featuring smoother edges that felt considerably more comfortable in our ears. While the feel of the EarJams still isn’t up to Sony’s high standards, they’re a lot better as a result of Griffin’s change.]
Since Griffin’s taken the roughest edges off the EarJams, we can most easily recommend them to those who (a) don’t mind, or rather prefer bass-heavy sound, (b) have never found the iPod’s in-ear buds to be uncomfortable, and (c) could benefit from the greater isolation provided by these accessories. They’re not right for everyone, but if you need what they offer, consider giving them a try.
Updated Note: Subsequent to our original review, Griffin sent us the final shipping version of the EarJams’ carrying case, which is handsome gray nylon with a good exterior zipper. Two black mesh pockets and a zippered pocket on the inside can hold the EarJams and their spare rubber inserts, as well as Apple’s headphones. We really liked the carrying case, which adds a little extra to our overall evaluation of the product’s value.
Jeremy Horwitz is Senior Editor of iLounge and practices intellectual property law in his spare time. His recent book, Law School Insider, has been called the “best book about law school - ever,” and he continues to contribute to Ziff-Davis electronic entertainment magazines.