As numerous and popular as they are, inexpensive earphones are challenging to review for a couple of reasons: first, cheaper earphones tend to receive less attention in the quality control department, so they’re often easy to damage and sometimes don’t even sound the same from unit to unit, and second, their sound quality tends to be unremarkable — the major differences between them are in looks, features, and frills. With these caveats in mind, we’re briefly reviewing a collection of four recently-released and relatively inexpensive earphones today: Altec Lansing’s Bliss Platinum ($70), Audio-Technica’s ATH-CK400i ($60), Incase’s Capsule ($50), and Ultimate Ears’ 350vi ($60). They’re all from major manufacturers who we’d trust to produce at least reasonably consistent earphones from unit to unit, and though none is a blockbuster, each has a couple of features that set it apart from Apple’s free iPod and iPhone pack-ins.
Of these four earphones, Bliss Platinum is the one with the weakest price-to-performance ratio, but also laser-focused appeal. Most earphones are designed by men either to appeal to men or both genders, but Bliss Platinum has specifically been created to appeal to women and girls, with female-focused cosmetic and functional tweaks.
Designed and sized to fit the smaller ear canals of girls and women, Bliss Platinum features attractively dual-textured metal plug and driver housings, and unique jewel-like sides that are far more impressively detailed than one might expect from afar. Houndstooth-style fabric cabling with nice chrome and black plastic accents really make Bliss Platinum look like ear jewelry, while silicone ear tips are clear frosted, and come in extra-small, small, and medium single-flanges, plus one set of double-flanged tips for extra noise isolation in medium-sized ears. Three different colors are available, each packaged with a nice black soft carrying pouch. (Updated: We originally couldn’t find the “left” and “right” markings on the earphones; tiny L and R markings are hidden on plastic rings underneath the metal housings and above the fabric cables.)
The rub with Bliss Platinum is that there’s not much beyond the looks and fit to recommend them otherwise—they’re competent rather than great earphones, clearly being sold at a premium because of the design rather than other features.
Sonically, they’re roughly on par with less expensive and/or more fully-featured options we’ve tested—including other models we review today. With 8mm drivers inside, the sound is relatively midrange-focused, with just enough bass and treble to avoid sounding particularly deficient in either category without comparative listening; the clarity is only marginally better than Apple’s stock earphones. Serious bass fans will find Bliss Platinum to be wanting in that department, and audiophiles listening for distortion will hear it relatively quickly in the low end. Performance is optimal at roughly the 50% volume level on any of Apple’s portable devices.