Review: House of Marley Zion Earphones
There's magic in the $100 bill -- not the paper itself, but rather in how this particular unit of measurement serves as a benchmark for different types of products. Today, we're reviewing two new $100 headphones for iPod, iPhone, and iPad users, and they're very different from one another: House of Marley's Zion Earphones ($100) are a fairly conventional pair of in-ear, wired headphones with design influences from the late Bob Marley's family, and BBP Industries' Mobiband ($100) is a completely wireless Bluetooth 2.0 headset that's being advertised as a spiritual sequel to Jaybird's Sportsband, only with design improvements.
Core functionality is what these two headsets have in common. Both include stereo speakers—one per ear—and a microphone so that you can make phone calls with an iPhone, and use voice input-ready apps with any iOS device. They’re also both designed to be portable: the corded Zion earpieces can be wrapped up and stuck inside an included canvas carrying pouch, while Mobiband goes beyond the aforementioned Sportsband by folding up for fairly easy storage inside any bag you provide yourself.
But at that point, the similarities end. Of these two products, Zion looks more intriguingly designed: fabric cables with Jamaican stripe colors are attached to earpieces made from wood, handsomely pinched and swirled recycled aluminum, and silicone rubber tips; a nice black plastic and silver metal capsule at the Y-juncture below the earphones provides three-button remote controls and a microphone at just the right distance from your face. The L-shaped headphone plug is compatible with virtually every iPod, iPhone, and iPad case we’ve seen, and respectably designed to relieve some cable strain. Three total sets of silicone tips are included so that you can get a snug fit inside different sizes of ear canals. Every element of Zion looks and feels well-made; the only question is whether you like their style.
Sonically, Zion is an easy sell for in-ear headphone fans. Between the bass-focused audio drivers and the entirely unobjectionable performance of its built-in microphone, Zion delivers almost the exact type of sound experience that most people would be expecting as an upgrade from Apple’s free pack-ins and similarly inexpensive earphones. While the audio definitely skews towards the low end of the spectrum, with less obvious treble than we’d prefer to hear from a $100 canalphone—and no major advantages in the detail department over $50-$80 alternatives we’ve tested—the bass performance delivered by House of Marley is surprisingly strong. Regardless of the tracks we threw at Zion, low-end notes, baritone voices, and beats were distortion-free, smooth, and rich in a way that we wish was more common in rival products.
Judged as $100 headphones, Mobiband and Zion each have enough to offer to merit our recommendations. Zion is slightly easier to recommend because of its superior speaker and microphone performance—given the huge number of wired earphones out there today, it’s just a little too expensive for the overall package it offers, but thanks to its design elements, it’s close enough to right-priced to merit a B+ rating and strong general recommendation. Mobiband’s volume adjustments, mic performance, and capacitive controls all have non-trivial issues, but on the other hand, this is a completely wireless and comfortable headset with pretty solid performance at a reasonable price. It’s good enough to merit a flat B rating and our general recommendation—a nice start for BBP, which has done a great job with bags in the past and is a welcome entry into the electronics side of the accessory market.