Review: Griffin Technology EarThumps Earphones for Mobile Devices

Review: Griffin Technology EarThumps Earphones for Mobile Devices 1

Pros: Comfortable, sleek, and inexpensive iPod earbuds in your choice of black or white colors, each with a carrying case and three different silicone rubber molds for your ear canals. Good cable and headphone plug design.

Cons: Heavy bass slant to the audio that’s not as controlled as in better options we’ve tested, flattening sound and lacking for treble.

Obvious defects aside, it’s hard to create a really bad $20 earphone, and because of the price, it’s rare that a company will create a truly excellent one. With EarThumps ($20), Griffin has taken a decent first shot at the ultra-low end in-canal earphone category, creating a set of earbuds that are comfortable, sleek, and inexpensive. They’re also available in two colors – black and white – to match the two current iPod colors. But on audio, they’re pretty average; heavily bass-weighted, a factor which will endear them more to some users than others.

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To provide a little perspective on audio quality in headphones: over time, iLounge has come to prefer listening devices that are “neutral,” which is to say that they do not change the original treble, bass, and midrange balances of music, and ones that are “clear,” revealing detail in songs that is frequently lost with less expensive phones. With $20 earphones, we do not expect – or generally get – clarity. But we do hope for a neutral balance, the rough baseline for which can be heard through Apple’s packed-in iPod earbuds, themselves valued at around $20. In part because Apple’s packed-in buds don’t do a good job of isolating your ear canals from outside noise, they’re criticized for lacking a bit in the bass department, but they’re otherwise generally agreed to be well-balanced and appropriately detailed for the low price.

EarThumps aim squarely at the isolation issue by including three sets of silicone rubber sleeves that resize the earpieces for different sized ears: these sleeves compare in size to the ones found in Sony’s MDR-EX70/71/81 series of earphones, and make EarThumps very comfortable for extended listening. The company has also taken other smart design steps, such as using a small, thin, highly compatible headphone plug and a medium-thickness cable that breaks evenly with a Y-splitter in the center rather than off to one side. Griffin also includes a good gray zipper-closed carrying case with the EarThumps that holds the extra sleeves and the earphones when you’re on the go; it’s the same case previously included with the company’s earlier EarJams, and though it could stand to be updated, it’s totally fine.

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One consequence of the added isolation is that the EarThumps ramp up the bass, adding extra “thump” to any song you pick. It’s similar to choosing the “Bass Booster” equalizer setting on your iPod, but now applied across the board to all songs. There’s good and bad in this: people who love bass may like the enhancement, but the boost also lessens the apparent detail in songs, and creates a sense of “flatness” in songs that can’t be turned off. It’s also not the best such bass enhancement we’ve heard: Sony’s older MDR-EX70s (iLounge rating: A-), which are also bass-weighted, have a smoother, more pleasing curve, and are at least equally comfortable; the more current EX71s are a bit muddier and less controlled, like the EarThumps.

Most users of low-end headphones will find the differences between the above phones mild, and only a matter of degree. But once you get out of the bass-heavy category of earbuds, the differences are very noticeable. We pulled out Apple’s pack-ins and its similarly isolating In-Ear Headphones (iLounge rating: B), and heard dramatically better treble response and overall balance, with a more than a bit of addtional detail, too. It’s worth noting at this point that a certain segment of our readership, specifically certain buyers of low end headphones, views treble detail in headphones as a flaw, and gravitates towards headphones with heavier bass response. For that reason, our preferred option in this low-end category remain Sony’s MDR-EX81s (iLounge rating: A), which manage to deliver roughly equivalent bass to the EarThumps where it belongs, without artificially reducing treble or flattening the midrange.

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Rating the EarThumps is a challenge in that they’re physically nicely designed, comfortable, and inexpensive, but from an audio standpoint represent a second-class implementation of a feature (bass boosting) that not everyone will like. If that’s your thing, there’s a possibility that you’ll like them, but we weren’t impressed by the sound. We consider EarThumps a slightly better than okay offering that will be better suited to some tastes than others, and deserving of our limited recommendation more on their high level of comfort and overall acceptability than anything else.

Our Rating

B-
Limited Recommendation

Company and Price

Company: Griffin Technology

Website: www.GriffinTechnology.com

Model: EarThumps

Price: $20

Compatible: All iPods

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8 comments
  1. I’m on the fence for these ones, I need new headphones and I’m saving up for some Mid-end (I consider that $150) earphones so I need an interm solution. I like Griffin, and these are cheap enough, so I just may pick them up.

  2. Pimpy, not a bad choice, but if I were you I would go for the Sony MDR-EX51s, which are also 20 bucks on amazon (and you don’t need to pay shipping if you spend more than 25 bucks).

  3. I’ve ordered two pairs (one for me one for my housemate), and I was fully aware of all of the points Jeremy makes in the review would be true. They seem to be in the same bracket as the Logitech Stealth headphones I’m currently using with my nano, but I liked the look of them sufficiently to give them a go. And with getting them brought back to me from the States by a friend who is holidaying over there at the mo, they are resonably price to allow the experiment!

    I agree with catboy17 – If you can get the EX51’s for $20 I say go for it PimpyMicPimp. They still hold the best performing/resonably priced headphones for me. My EX71’s weren’t as good due to treble issues…

  4. Ms/Mr McPimp,

    I would NOT recommend the EX81’s. Yes they are fantastic for their price – for the first couple of weeks. Then the shoddily built cable covering (shame Sony!) starts peeling off and exposing the wires.

    They are not fantastic after that. Very, very disappointing to have something you like so much, go so wrong, so obviously.

    I recently bought the ezGears ezEars, but if I had known to wait a little while, I would have bought these EarThumps.

    BTW this Sony problem is not just personal experience – it has happened to many iLoungers.

  5. Fleur,then contact Sony. I haven’t had any problems (with my ex51, 71, or 81, in fact) and, though I certainly recognize it is a problem for many people, I believe that Sony will send you working ones if you let tech support know that yours have a problem. I find that to be a better solution than complaining on a forum, but perhaps I’m incorrect in thinking that Sony will replace them. In terms of ex-81 vs. 51, I prefer 51 simply because I prefer the bud design to the around the ear design. I found that with the 81s I had a lot more fiddling to do, but many people like those so it’s really a personal decision.

  6. As the name suggests, the Earthumps are quite bass-heavy and are lacking in definition higher up in the range, although the bass seems very tight. Overall the sound quality isn’t quite as good as Sony’s MDR-EX71 but, given the price difference between these two products here in New Zealand, I would consider the Earthumps to be much better value. It is also worth noting that the Earthumps do not have the silly uneven cable, or cable insulation that is vulnerable to shearing, which are common critisms of the EX71s.

    The only significant disappointment is that I am of the opinion that the ear inserts that Griffin bundle with the Earthumps are far too big. I find that the smallest one fits me reasonably well, but many people will find even the smallest insert to be too large to acheive a comfortable fit.

    Anyone who has experienced decent quality in-ear monitors will find the Earthumps to be woefully inadequete, but those of us who are not audiophiles should be very pleased with them. At $20, they’re a fantastic bargain.

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