Review: Maximo iP-HS2 iMetal Isolation Headset for iPhone

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.

In the case of iP-HS2, an in-canal earphone that rivals Vibe Duo on looks and features, the $30 price difference is a fairly significant positive, and raises a different question from iP-HS1: is the similar in-canal Vibe Duo design worth such a premium? Again, answers will vary from user to user, but some people will say “yes” without even thinking twice.


Review: Maximo iP-HS2 iMetal Isolation Headset for iPhone

Just like iP-HS1, we followed the manufacturer’s recommended burn-in time with iP-HS2, giving it several hours of continuous audio play time before any of our sound tests. The results were generally positive, but not hugely surprising: the heavily bass-slanted Vibe Duo had more pronounced and deeper low-end performance, which as we’ve previously noted can range from pleasant to overwhelming based on which of V-Moda’s silicone tips you’re using. iP-HS2’s performance is more neutral, such that the bass and mid-bass don’t overwhelm treble details, which stand out a little more here, and give you the impression that you’re hearing more high-end detail than in Vibe Duo. Maximo is also using a more efficient earphone, requiring less volume from the iPhone or iPod to perform the same music, and similarly benefits from passive noise isolation assuming that you pick the right silicone eartips to seal your canals against outside sounds.


Review: Maximo iP-HS2 iMetal Isolation Headset for iPhone

Turned up to their respectively optimized volume levels, the differences and similarities between iP-HS2 and Vibe Duo are fairly obvious. Maximo’s sound is a little cleaner and more balanced, but flatter, and not as “fun” as the more engrossing, fuller, club-like sound V-Moda achieves with Vibe Duo. We’d pick iP-HS2 for more clinical listening, and Vibe Duo for rocking out, assuming that you’re looking for both earphones’ sub-$100 level of sound clarity rather than stepping up to higher-fidelity iPhone-ready canalphones such as Etymotic’s new hf2.

We also tested iP-HS2 by making some phone calls, and as with iP-HS1, 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. Whether from manufacturing tolerance or intentional differences, the iP-HS2’s mic was described as a hint less clear than iP-HS1’s, though not by enough to make it worse than Vibe Duo’s.


Review: Maximo iP-HS2 iMetal Isolation Headset for iPhone

Just as with iP-HS1, we really liked 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.

In terms of style and design, iP-HS2 is otherwise a step behind the impressive Vibe Duo, which as we’ve previously discussed at length has numerous enviable design features, ranging from nicely shaped enclosures, cool cabling, and a variety of different color options. Maximo’s single chrome and matte silver design is a little more generic, not quite as comfortable in the ear for extended listening because of an all-metal stem, and its key pack-ins—user-selectable silicone ear tips and a carrying case—aren’t as nice as V-Moda’s, though a 2-foot extension cable is also included in the package.


Review: Maximo iP-HS2 iMetal Isolation Headset for iPhone

Why does iP-HS2 rate the same, then, as Vibe Duo? For the $30 price difference, it’s reasonable to expect certain corners to be cut, and though Maximo’s design isn’t as flashy as V-Moda’s, the more neutral sound, slightly better microphone performance, and lower price tag are all legitimate reasons to consider iP-HS2 as a good option—assuming that you’re looking for more neutral and flatter sound. This is a good metal canalphone for budget-conscious iPhone owners; better sound, more color options, and slight tweaks to the earpiece stems would make it a decidedly superior pick.


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