Pros: Outstanding Sound, lightweight & portable, excellent fit.
Cons: Pricey, but probably will come down in the future.
I’d like to tell you about my love affair with my iPod. It is no secret, and I flaunt it shamelessly. Ever since the little bugger made its way into my life, I’ve hoarded and protected it like a cherished child.
Unfortunately, I’m positive my lovely iPod experience suffers greatly with the stock earbud system that ships with the unit. If my expectations were less and my ear canals larger, I’d probably be satisfied and not search for a better solution. But, try as I might, the standard issue iPod earbuds will NOT stay in my ears. When I am lucky enough to balance them exactly right in my ears, the sound is flat and lacks the richness of clunky, heavy headsets I remember from the 70’s.
My challenge was to find a product that could meet the following criteria:
- Superior sound quality (#1)
- Small enough to pack in the iPod case
- Will fit a woman’s ears without struggling or falling out.
I was fortunate enough to review three products recently (besides the original earbuds that shipped with the iPod), 2 of which I purchased and one donated as a demo unit. I chose as my test music, ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ by Pink Floyd because of the many variations in music and background sounds that had always eluded me.
So with 3 units of different size, quality and price range, I felt fortunate in having a nice variety to make some comparisons.
The line-up is as follows:
- Sony MDR-G52 (behind the head, rests on upper ears)
- Koss “The Plug” earbud stereophones
- Future Sonics Inc. ‘Ears Model EM3” earphone monitors
Sony MDR-G52 “Street Gear” Score (3)
Fairly good sound, especially outside where background noise was an issue. Average bass response (nothing spectacular, but acceptable). Low cost. Wearing the MDR-G52 for a short time resulted in painful pressure at the top of my ears. This was unacceptable.While they stayed on while jogging, again, they were painful after a short time.The MDR-G52 are an unacceptable size for portability with the iPod.
Koss “The Plug” Score (4)
Decent sound, decent bass response, low cost. The idea is a compression cushion material that forms in the ear for custom fit. The concept is unique and innovative, however this product failed as advertised.While the cushion insert did provide a fit (or sorts) the stem on which you place the cushion material is hard and the cushion compressed back leaving the stem to poke uncomfortably in your ears. You could not reposition the earbuds without taking them all the way out, squeezing the material and hoping you didn’t scrape the inside of your ear in the process. Also, the hard inner stem tended to collect earwax… eeew! I found the product unacceptable because of this design flaw and hazard to your inner ear.
Future Sonics “Ears Model EM3” Score (9.5)
Now here is the product that Koss (in my opinion) was trying to achieve, but failed. Not only did the EM3 offer far superior sound quality, the bass response was nothing short of ‘phenomenal’. The sound delivered by the iPod and EM3 is a balance of beauty and functionality found in no other product I tested including the Apple brand earbuds and what made the sound so much better was the design and fit of the ear plugs themselves. Not only did the earbuds fit and fit tight enough to completely block outside noise, but also they came in two sizes, large and small. I don’t know whether I’m an anomaly, or it’s a ‘female’ thing, but my ear canals are quite small and the small sized cushions fit me perfectly!
The EM3 excelled in two areas, the first being the obvious sound quality something you couldn’t help but notice immediately. It was eerily realistic. For the first time, I could hear all the background sounds (and there are many) in the music. I did my initial testing of this product while lying outside in the sun. The fabulously rich sound drowned out my kids screaming and playing in the pool perfectly!
The premise for the earphones was the same as the Koss system but with an important difference. The cushion material for the EM3 has a huge advantage over the Koss system. While the cushion material seems the same, the Future Sonic Ear has a ‘sleeve’ bonded inside the material that slides on the bud stem. This is an important distinction because unlike the Koss earbuds which compress backward and expose the sound tube, the EM3 stay in place and supply the material with the support and stability it takes to keep its compression while not getting pushed back. This attention to detail makes the EM3 ears a clear winner!
Another, slightly less significant, but nonetheless important difference between the Koss and the Apple product was the ability of the EM3 to be taken out of the included, classy carrying case virtually untangled! The Apple earbuds consistently fell out from the case looking like a handful of hopeless spaghetti. I’m not sure why, but I believe it is due to the slightly heavier gauge wire that the EM3 use. But for whatever reason, they are certainly less incline to tangle.
However, I did run up against a slight downfall testing the product while power walking and jogging.
The EM3 were clearly designed for static listening. The EM3 is designed for pro-audio monitoring in a live performance environment, not for listening while walking or jogging. The earbuds (to their credit) are so sensitive that any movement from the wires will cause noise. This product is so sensitive; in fact, that wind blowing on the earbuds themselves will create an eerie echo. I tried to hold the wires to reduce the motion as I jogged, but soon found it interfered with my walking rhythm. The solution involved threading the wire inside my shirt to reduce the movement. Problem solved!
The Future Sonics Ears Model EM3 is simply the best product out of the four tested. Unfortunately, there is a significant cost increase that accompanies this benefit which may force casual users to a less expensive, inferior product.
With superior, crisp, clear sound, a remarkably realistic bass response and earbuds that actually fit, this is a winning combination that should make the discerning audiophile in all iPod users rejoice.
Company and Price
Company: Future Sonics, Inc.
Model: Future Sonics Ears Model EM3
Compatible: iPod 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G, iPod mini, iPod photo, iPod shuffle