Two years ago, Griffin Technology released EarThumps, a pair of inexpensive in-canal earphones that we found passable, as they were nice looking and comfortable but too heavy in the bass department. Now the company has released TuneBuds ($20), which are basically just rebranded, recolored, and slightly tweaked versions of the EarThumps, though the changes are positive: the new versions are a little better than the ones they replace.
TuneBuds continue to feature the same style and same three sets of silicone rubber in-canal tips as before, but now come in new colors and no longer include a carrying case. They were originally released in metallic silver, blue, and pink finishes, but are being joined by other colors—purple, light blue, light green, and red—to match the bodies of late 2007 third-generation iPod nanos. Additionally, they all come with a new iPhone-friendly headphone plug, though they shouldn’t be confused with Griffin’s TuneBuds Mobile, a separate jet black pair of earbuds with fabric cables, an integrated microphone and a control button; the standard TuneBuds are mic-free, and intended solely for listening to your iPod’s audio.
In short, the concept behind TuneBuds remains the same as with EarThumps: deliver an alternative to Apple’s packed-in earbuds that offers similar clarity of sound, but with a decided bass bias. That difference is instantly apparent in direct comparative testing against Apple’s earphones: as with many other low-end canalphones, such as Sony’s bottom-of-the-line offerings, the TuneBuds make all of your iPod’s music sound like you’ve turned up the bass, at the cost of a lower sound floor with more neutral midrange and high-end sound. Pop the TuneBuds in and you’ll notice that everything sounds like it’s filling up your ears: drum beats, guitars, and vocals are all audible, though they sound like they’re all in the same general place on a stage, and not spread out.
You’re not getting much more bass detail, but rather just sound with the mid-bass and bass portions emphasized, so elements of a song that are audible in Apple’s earbuds are still audible here, just emphasized differently. Background beats come closer to the front, while treble details tend to disappear into the bass, making the sound less crisp than with Apple’s earbuds and higher-end earphones. We’re not huge fans of this type of presentation, but some users—particularly ones shopping for inexpensive earphones—really enjoy it.
Cosmetic improvements aside, we can give the TuneBuds some credit for one thing in the audio: though they’re similarly bass-weighted, we found them to be a little more controlled, and hence less objectionable, than their predecessors. If you’re a bass fan on a budget, these are good headphones to consider, particularly if you’re looking for something to match the color of an iPod nano or shuffle; otherwise we’d recommend looking at more balanced options, such as Sony’s MDR-EX81s, which generally demand and deserve slightly higher prices.
Company and Price
Company: Griffin Technology
Compatible: All iPods, iPhone*