Pros: Cleanly designed iPod-matching earbuds with above-average sound quality; bass is tighter and less muddy than in Sony’s similarly priced, popular EX71s, clarity is roughly comparable. Comfortable enough to wear for extended periods. Reasonable, if not aggressive standard price.
Cons: Single included set of silicone rubber earpieces will fit some ears better than others; Sony’s earbuds include multiple sized silicone pieces to accommodate different ears, and create better isolation seal. Unlike top competing options, carrying case sold separately.
We’ve previously identified four key categories of headphones, broken down by price: headphones under $60, under $150, under $350, and without price limits. The $150 price point has turned out to be a sweet spot for most iPod accessory makers, as headphones delivered at that level can typically offer a greater level of audio fidelity – read: clarity, soundstage, and balance – than ones sold for less. In fact, some high-end audio companies have refused to produce headphones designed to sell for under $100, claiming that their fidelity is unacceptable.
That hasn’t stopped tens of companies from selling low-end headphones, and ezGear (a division of Audio Outfitters) decided to join the fray with SX50 ($29.98, intro. price $24.98), an under-$30 in-canal earphone marketed as possessing “great fit” and “good quality audio.” Unlike most of the low-end over-the-ear headphones we pass on reviewing for various reasons, the SX50s are primarily marketed at iPod owners, and use white hard plastic casings with circular chrome accents and white silicone rubber earpieces to stay put inside your ear canals.
The SX50s’ primary advantages are these: first, they borrow the soft rubber earpiece design from Sony’s popular MDR-EX70/71 series (iLounge rating: A-) and MDR-EX81s (iLounge rating: A), which has been roundly acknowledged as one of if not the most comfortable in-ear designs ever made. ezGear’s implementation is close, but isn’t quite as good: while the earbuds were roughly as comfortable in our ears as the EX70/71s, the included white earpieces didn’t provide as much of a seal with our ears, and ezGear doesn’t include alternate sizes as the Sonys do to accommodate different ears. The consequence is that you isolate less outside noise and channel a bit less of the earphones’ sound into your ears. That said, they provided better seal, isolation and comfort than Apple’s iPod pack-ins, and stayed comfortably in our ears during several domestic and international flights we took them on over the last several weeks for testing.
On another generally positive note, the SX50s’ response is less heavily slanted towards bass response than the EX70s and 71s, a factor which may or may not be to your liking, but was to ours. This point merits a bit of explanation. Despite their low prices, the audio characteristics of the EX70s and EX71s have inspired considerable debate because of what many users of higher-end headphones (including us) have felt was a devolution in the latter model towards muddy, over-aggressive bass. The earlier and now discontinued EX70 wasn’t a model headphone for clarity or balance in its price range, either, but was a bit more balanced than the EX71. Some users – particularly buyers of inexpensive headphones – either strongly prefer aggressive, thumpy bass, or don’t particularly care as much about sound balance as comfort, so the EX71s have been quite popular regardless.
While still noticeable, the SX50s’ bass is a bit tighter and less exaggerated than the EX70s, which in turn are tighter and less exaggerated than the EX71s. You’ll commensurately notice a little – and we underscore little – more emphasis on treble in the SX50s, which may have as much to do with the SX50s’ less aggressive ear seal as anything in the drivers. That said, they do provide a little more bass than Apple’s iPod pack-ins, and less apparent treble. All of these headphones are otherwise at the same general level of audio fidelity – low by the standard of more expensive earphones, but generally on par with other $30 headphones. A small bump in price will today get you the MDR-EX81s, which we prefer on sound quality. By comparison with all of the options we’ve tested – not just the ones we’ve reviewed, which tend to be the better options – we’d call the SX50s above average on sound for their price, but not spectacular.
It’s also worth a note that the SX50s – unlike the Sonys – use a cord that splits evenly in the middle rather than on its left or right side, so that the cord hangs evenly from both ears. We didn’t have problems with the Sony design, but some of our readers do, and if all other things were equal and we were given the choice between even or uneven cords, we’d generally go with the even ones. The SX50s’ cord is also a one-piece design, unlike some of the detachable two-piece Sony cords that are built for use with remote controls, another option that some people may prefer.
Based on our testing, the SX50s are well-made, surviving plenty of knocks and extended testing during our travels. However, and unlike the Sonys, they’re not packaged with a carrying case of any sort. Our review MDR-EX81s came with a soft case, but Sony has subsequently replaced that for U.S. customers with an attractive hard case. Instead, ezGear sells one separately for an additional $7.50. We prefer the included Sony cases.
Combined with their lack of alternate silicone earpieces, the SX50s’ lack of a carrying case makes them a bit less of a value than they initially seem. They’ll fit most ears acceptably and comfortably – better than Apple’s pack-ins, without a doubt – but getting an optimal seal will be harder than with the MDR-EX70/71 series and EX81s. If you’re looking for a quality inexpensive earphone with slightly better bass response and a bit more comfort than the iPod’s pack-ins, consider the SX50s; if you need a carrying case or have had problems fitting similar in-canal buds in your ears without using different-sized earpieces, you might want to consider other options.
Company and Price
Company: Audio Outfitters/ezGear
Model: ezEars SX50
Compatible: All iPods