Wired in-ear headphones with mics and call quality

A: I’m looking for in-ear monitors with the best in class call quality using the in-line mic. Is this an oxymoron? From what I understand there is a limit to how good an in-line wired mic can be, and all reviews seem to gloss over call quality while walking about or in noisy environments. I don’t want a Bluetooth headset. I just want to know which in-ear headset gives me great music audio and call quality?

– John

Wired in-ear headphones with mics and call quality

A: Unfortunately, the only really valid answer is “none of the above.” Wired in-ear headphones sold for the iPhone almost universally use Apple’s own three-button remote and mic and are virtually all identical to the performance of Apple’s pack-ins.

There have been a very small number of mics that are slightly different, but none of these add any significant features such as noise cancellation, and any actual call quality differences are unlikely to be profound. For example, Scosche’s TapLine remote + mic solution, found on several of their recent headphone/earphone models, moves the mic away from the remote, allowing you to more easily adjust the proximity of the mic in relation to your mouth and thereby possibly allowing you to increase call quality under certain conditions.

Other than these subtle changes, however, the microphones themselves are not designed in any particularly special way that would make a significant different to call quality. Part of this is simply due to the fact that more advanced features such as noise cancellation require powered multi-microphone arrays such as those found on Bluetooth headsets, and in the iPhone itself.

IEM manufacturers tend to focus on providing good audio quality for music rather than adding more complex and expensive technology to the microphone itself.

Ultimately, at this point there seems to not be any ideal solution that provides both good music quality and call quality in the same package, even among Bluetooth-based solutions. Most stereo Bluetooth headsets and adapters are focused on providing music playback and similarly omit features such as noise cancellation or higher-end microphones. On the other hand, the devices that provide the best support in this regard are almost exclusively within the domain of monaural Bluetooth headsets designed solely for making phone calls rather than listening to music and other audio.