V-Moda’s series of metal earphones—the $50 earbud Remix M-Class, and the $100 in-canal earphones Vibe and Vibe Duo—have inspired both copycats and similar but not identical competitors. Maximo’s iP-HS1 and iP-HS2 ($70 each) are thankfully in the latter category, based on the same “metal is cooler than plastic” premise, but with their own distinct looks and benefits. One benefit: like V-Moda’s Vibe Duo, but unlike Remix M-Class and Vibe, both are fully iPhone-ready, with integrated microphones and call/audio control buttons built into their cables, and headphone plugs that work with the iPhone and iPod alike. Another: the Maximo earphones each sell for $70, lower than the Vibes.
Whether you see that price as a steal or a cash grab will depend on the options you’re familiar with. As Maximo’s alternative to Apple’s classic iPod earbuds, iP-HS1 is a $70 earbud competing against plastic products that typically sell for $20 to $30; Apple’s past and current iPod and iPhone pack-ins sell for $29, with the newer iPhone version including the same microphone and control features found in iP-HS1. And Maximo’s earbud design is a throwback: rather than using the newer, sleeker shape of Apple’s 2006 earbuds, it falls back to the classic quarter globe and stem design that Apple and myriad competitors used to use; iP-HS1 reminds us visually of Audio-Technica’s ATH-CM3, an early iPod mini-matching design we reviewed back in 2005.
But as important as style may be to premium-priced, metal earphones, judging them by sight rather than sound isn’t entirely fair. Here, after several hours of manufacturer-recommended burn-in time, we found iP-HS1 to be fine, not spectacular by current iPod or iPhone earbud standards. Callers told us that the microphone, dangling here from the left earbud rather than the right, sounded almost as good as Apple’s, and a little better than V-Moda’s Vibe Duo microphone, doing a better-than-Vibe job of filtering background noise, but not providing as crisp and intelligible of a sound as Apple’s mic; one caller described the differences as noticeable but relatively minor.
On the listening side, iP-HS1 was also a little short of the current Apple earbud experience in clarity and treble response, but otherwise similarly balanced, which we liked. Some earphones, including V-Moda’s Remix M-Class, attempt to expand upon the performance of Apple’s stock earbuds by offering slightly punched up levels or a hint of reverberation for added sonic impact, but iP-HS1 is a more neutral earphone in this regard, and a little flat by comparison with more aggressively tuned competitors. Though there’s not a ton of bass—a common complaint in earbud-style designs—what’s here sounds good, but there’s nothing else to really make the sound stand out. We’d call the overall audio performance good enough not to impede regular enjoyment of our music, but not great by traditional earbud standards.
The only major design feature we really liked in iP-HS1 was Maximo’s approach to call/audio control: unlike Apple, V-Moda, and most of the other companies making iPhone-compatible earphones, Maximo separated its control button from its microphone, placing the former at the junction of the left and right earbud cords, and the latter in a tiny globe near mouth level on the left cord. This button location is a natural for easy control of calls and song playback, while the microphone’s position is similar to Apple’s, and a little higher than V-Moda’s, helping to pick up your voice rather than your surroundings. More companies should consider using Maximo’s approach.
For $70, we tend to expect more out of an earbud than a difference in materials—a manufacturer needs to decidedly best Apple’s less expensive offerings on sound, style and/or frills, and though Maximo has tried here, it’s hard for iP-HS1 to eclipse the more interesting, isolating iP-HS2 in this regard. All you get in the package is a single pair of foam ear covers, a simple, drawstring-style carrying case, and a 2-foot extension cable, none of which adds a lot, and though the iP-HS1 earbuds are visually interesting, their Frankenstein-styled circled stem connectors aren’t going to appeal to everyone. At this price, we’d pick iP-HS2 any day over iP-HS1, but if you insist upon the older earbud-style design, and prefer buds that are larger and heavier than Apple’s current iPod or iPhone pack-ins, consider this as a possible option.