Hype + NervePipe
Model: EarPollution Custom
Compatible: All iPods
iFrogz EarPollution Custom Fallout, NervePipe + Hype Earphones
In late November, iFrogz rolled out three pairs of Earpollution headphones that immediately caught our attention: Hype ($20), NervePipe ($35), and Fallout ($35), each a bit different in design and appeal. It wasn't any promise about the sound quality that intrigued us; rather, iFrogz' new concept -- customize the headphones with the colors and textures you want -- brought a fresh new twist to the fashion headphone category.
So, the good news first. All three pairs are on the “very inexpensive” side relative to the bulk of the headphones we review, and they’re unquestionably tailor-made to appeal to kids. The least expensive model, Hype, even includes a carrying case. So just to see how different models looked, we created two versions of the Hype earbuds to match the orange and black nanos, as well as other shuffle and classic models; users have the freedom to pick colors, chrome, and base colors that you prefer, resulting in earphones that match your individual visual preferences. This is a great idea, and though Hype has the least surface area to customize, you can still make a world of difference with your choices.
NervePipe, which will either be an on-the-ear design for most users or an over-the-ear design for people with tiny ears, was customized with black and chrome parts to match the look of the iPod touch, and we really liked how they turned out visually. Though the headphones are very plasticy, and the earpads are comfortable but not exactly dripping with signs of longevity, we’ve been lightly tossing them around for the past couple of months and they’re still fully intact. Note that NervePipe is a collapsible model, folding down for easier bagging or large pocketing, and expands to fit either small or adult-sized heads.
Fallout is shown here in black and yellow, and is the family’s over-the-ear style traditional headphone. We chose to customize it with black ear cushions, speakers, and headband, picking yellow for the sides of the band, and a matching yellow piece of art for the sides of the earcups; the result is the first headphone we’ve seen that matches the yellow iPod nano. Users with medium to large-sized ears will find that the padded cups rest mostly on top of their ears, providing decent external noise isolation; smaller ears will get more isolation.
By contrast with NervePipe, Fallout is less convenient to tote around: it doesn’t fold or collapse, and merely expands to fit different-sized heads. We’d describe it as looking less appealing to our eyes than NervePipe, but depending on your personal aesthetic tastes and the customization you give its side panels, you may find that it’s a better visual fit for your needs.
Some users will be so thrilled just to be able to make headphones look however they want that sound quality won’t even be an issue. For those users, you can stop reading after one more sentence: don’t expect spectacular sound, just a good value for the prices. Hype, which sells for 1/3 less than Apple’s iPod Earphones, offers sound quality that’s close but not quite at Apple’s level; bass response in Apple’s earbuds is superior. By comparison, Fallout is really overaggressive in bass, and not exactly a model of clarity, but does a good job of isolating outside noise. We wouldn’t wear or want to listen to it, but it’s not awful. The best-sounding model is NervePipe, which due as much to its on-ear design rather than over-ear one cuts down the bass; it’s still not a great-sounding headphone, but it’s fine.
Ultimately, what makes each of these earphones compelling are the price and customization factors, more than the sound quality; as much as our critical ears find the latter point difficult to ignore, and we do take sound quality into consideration in our separate ratings, the fact is that these are cheap and interesting enough earphones that many customers won’t mind. Our advice would be to go in, if at all, with the knowledge that you’re getting something more for looks than for sound; you may be pleasantly surprised. NervePipe or Hype are better picks in our book than Fallout.