Five months have passed since Altec Lansing released its first pairs of “iPhone-compatible” earphones — an over-the-ear pair called UHP307 ($40) and earbuds called UHP301 ($50), both billed as iPhone-ready because their headphone plugs were thin enough to fit Apple’s recessed headphone port. We featured both earphones in First Looks at the time, but didn’t review them because they didn’t offer a complete iPhone headset experience: they were little more than iPhone-sized iPod earphones, lacking the microphones and call/playback control buttons of other true iPhone-ready options, including Apple’s packed-in iPhone Stereo Headset. Altec promised that those features would soon arrive in an update.
In late November, the updated versions arrived: the UHS307 ($40) and UHS301 ($50) offer the same earphone designs, cables, and plugs as their predecessors, but now come with four things not found in the UHP-series designs: an in-line microphone, a single-button call/playback control, a shirt clip, and a 3.5mm to 2.5mm adapter cord for use with non-iPhone mobile phones. Altec also released another model, UHS306 ($90), which replaces the other models’ earbuds with in-canal earphones. Each of the models comes with silicone rubber eartips, a zippered neoprene carrying case, and attractive gray fabric cords; they’re all otherwise primarily made from gray plastic, and feature in-line volume controls in a box that’s separate from the microphone, if one’s included.
Basically, all five of these earphones strike us as a step or two back from the Etymotic-developed earphones Altec was selling a couple of years ago under its inMotion label, introducing elements from Plantronics’ cell phone headsets that don’t necessarily improve the iPhone or iPod earphone experience. Our separate reviews briefly discuss each version in relation to the others, as well as other iPhone-specific headsets we’ve tested.
Of the group, our favorites were the UHS307 and UHP307, though their identical pricing and UHS307’s superior pack-ins and features make it the better buy of the two. In essence, both of these earphones are somewhat overcomplicated alternatives to Sennheiser’s OMX70, which itself was a slightly overcomplicated alternative to Sony’s MDR-EX81. The premise behind all three models is that earbuds are suspended from rubber-coated “over-the-ear” mounts in order to keep the buds inside your ears. But whereas Sony made the mounts simple and designed the buds to fit in your ear canals, Sennheiser and now Altec Lansing use large iPod pack-in-style earbuds. You try to fit the earbuds into your ears, and they sort of do, sort of don’t; only one size of rubber eartip is included, so some ears will do better than others.
We found the Sony design a lot easier to fit onto our ears: the MDR-EX81 rubber mounts are simple and worked perfectly for us. Altec instead uses a far larger ear cuff that has multiple layers of rubber and a C-shaped metal bar inside. The positives of this design is that it’s firm and enables you to adjust the earbud’s height and tilt for your ear, but we didn’t find the in-ear result as snug as Sony’s; some users will definitely have different results.
UHS307 and UHP307’s saving grace is their sound quality. These particular earbuds sound a lot like Apple’s, with a reasonably wide dynamic range and enough high- and low-end presence to satisfy typical listeners; the only issue is getting the earphones properly positioned in your ears to let you hear the sound. Callers described the UHS307’s microphone as sounding almost identical to the one in Apple’s iPhone Stereo Headset—natural and smooth, not optimized for intelligibility but rather designed to make your voice sound normal. At times, they noted that the Altec mic was 10% or so lower in volume than Apple’s, but otherwise they liked how we sounded, and vice-versa. As with all of the mic-equipped headsets, a mute switch for the mic is included on the back of the in-line volume control box, should you want to stop your caller from hearing what you’re saying.
Given that they’re priced the same as earphones that come with in-line microphones, remotes, and 2.5mm adapters, our ratings of the UHP301 and UHP307 are a hint lower than the mic-equipped UHS301 and UHS307 versions, respectively, but it’s worth noting that we’re a bit disappointed with each of the earphones in this collection. Altec Lansing was generally on the right track with its Etymotic-developed InMotion earphones, but something seems to have gone wrong here—comfort, isolation, and style have all decreased rather than improved in this new generation of offerings. It sounds almost silly to say this, but we want our old Altec back, and soon.
Though we consider the UHS307 to be a good earphone overall, and the best of this bunch, the others are varying shades of “OK” save for the UHP306, which costs around twice the price of the others, and doesn’t approach the sound or comfort of past inMotion designs. It rates a D- in accordance with our policy on defective products, because of the frayed state it was in when received.
Company and Price
Company: Altec Lansing
Compatible: All iPods, iPhone*