Company: id America
Compatible: All iPods except shuffle 3G, iPhone 3G/3GS/4/4S, All iPads
id America Spark In-Ear Headphones
Every iPhone and iPod comes with acceptable free earphones -- some with three-button remote controls and/or microphones, some without -- so do you really need to go out and buy another pair? No, unless you're looking for something with considerably better sound, a different design, and a better fit, or you're an iPad user who doesn't have spare Apple earphones already sitting around. Budget headphone makers have tried to cater to the "something different and better" crowd for years now, most often with plasticy, low-fidelity options that come and go without much notice. Last month, id America debuted a new option called Spark ($60), which is a little more expensive and a lot fancier than its rivals: the housing design is based on the shape of a spark plug, and made very substantially from metal, with an extra fashion twist that recalls the colorful early days of V-Moda's earphones.
While the shape of each aluminum earpiece is the same—a three-pronged hub stands out from the back of a distinctively ringed barrel—the colors change from model to model, for a current total of nine different styles. Like V-Moda’s now-classic metal earphone Vibe, id America offers conservative and daring color schemes, but Spark’s nine colors are divided into three different themes. There are one-colored versions, including silver on silver and black on black, which merely alternate between glossy and matte textures. Next are two-colored versions, which have the same base and accent colors on both earphones. Last are others that have deliberately mismatched earphones—one side will be pink with silver accents, while the other is silver with pink accents.
You can decide for yourself which color scheme appeals to your tastes, but id America deserves a lot of credit for boldly making so many options available at the onset—V-Moda tended to roll out new colors slowly, and Spark’s broad launch gives users the ability to find something neat right away. Regardless of the color you pick, including some uncommon options such as gunmetal, brown, and purple, the earphones look really nice, shifting to rubber and plastic only for the soft gray or frosted clear silicone ear tips they include, their cabling, and a cool neutral gray carrying case that snaps shut with earphones and tips inside. Every component except one looks and feels great, no easy feat for a relatively inexpensive designer earpiece.
The only modestly weak link in the package is the one-button remote control and microphone capsule, which dangles from the lightly labeled left earphone cable and is very conspicuously made from faux metallic plastic. On a positive note, the single button works as expected to play and pause music, take calls, activate Voice Control/Siri when held down, and switch tracks if double-clicked. Similarly, the microphone’s totally fine—basically indistinguishable from the ones Apple uses in its own earphones these days. But as compared with the metal parts, and even Apple’s since-abandoned one-button remote designs, Spark’s capsule feels cheap and could stand to be improved a little.
If Spark has any other advantage over metal rivals such as V-Moda’s Remix Remote, it’s the $60 price tag, which is nearly $20 less than the least expensive version of Remix with a remote control. Though V-Moda loads up Remix and its other packages with various frills—ear stabilizers, Kevlar-reinforced cabling, and extra rubber tips—the “pay less, get less” value proposition here is equally enticing.
It’s helped by Spark’s sonic performance, which is extremely similar to Remix’s: optimized for an iPhone, iPod, or iPad set at roughly 50-55% of its peak volume level, Spark performs songs with a little extra mid-bass and bass emphasis rather than flat neutrality, with slightly more bass and slightly less treble than Remix. Neither model is going to win “wow” awards from audiophiles, but they both make songs sound rich, bringing out the warmer parts of tracks while letting voices and high-pitched notes pop out. While they’re similar to one another in clarity, they both represent a big jump up from Apple’s packed-in earphones, letting you hear more layers in the backgrounds of songs, as well as additional bass and treble that are gained by the use of isolating rubber tips. As long as you choose the right size for your ear canals—id America includes only three sizes of single flange tips rather than V-Moda’s four—you’ll have a much better sonic experience with Spark than with iPhone or iPod freebies.
Ultimately, Spark is a very good earphone option for the $60 price tag: id America’s combination of an original industrial design with numerous color choices and solid audio drivers is a win for consumers, bringing the price of fashionable metal earphones down while increasing the range of hues in the marketplace. While the plasticy single-button remote control and mic unit isn’t up to snuff with the rest of the elements here, its inclusion as an alternative to Apple’s official three-button unit helps make Spark more affordable, at least partially justifying id America’s decision to include it. If you’re looking to make your first upgrade from Apple’s inexpensive earbuds, definitely consider Spark as a viable and particularly attractive option.