If the current trend keeps up, it’s quite possible that 2009 will be the biggest year yet for new iPod and iPhone earphones, fueled by the introduction of headsets that have been retrofitted with microphones and remote controls for use with Apple’s latest devices. Late in 2008, we received three pairs of earphones from Japanese accessory maker Radius, which has decided to bring some of its offerings to the United States. In the U.S., the pairs are called Atomic Bass ($40), Atomic Bass for iPhone ($50, Japanese name: radHeadphones Talk with Mic), and Radius Live ($80, Japanese name: radHeadphones Live). All three are made substantially from aluminum, with the first two pairs differing only in color and the presence of a single-button remote and microphone box on the silver iPhone version versus the black iPod one; the third has a different, red metal housing and sonic characteristics.
As one might guess from the “Atomic Bass” references, all three of these headphones are very solid performers in the low-end department—at least, when they’ve been inserted correctly into your ears. Radius has gone with untraditional shapes that both look and feel good, assuming that they’re inserted and then twisted into the proper position in your ear canals, the silicone tips sealing with your ears to block out quite a bit of ambient sound. If they’re not twisted, their bass sounds anemic, leaving you with fine highs and mids. When they’re in properly, however, they provide the right quantity of bass—enough to let you hear low-end notes, but without the Darth Vader-style mid-bass-boosting effect of V-Moda’s original Vibes. By the standards of $40 to $50 earphones, these sound quite good, though the twisting motion means they’re not as easy to pop in and enjoy as the Vibes and other, simpler canalphones.
One issue does creep in with the iPhone version of Atomic Bass, however. Radius’s microphone is a step down from the one in Apple’s iPhone Stereo Headset in sound quality, possessing a similarly full-bodied, bass-rich sound, but rendering voices with slightly less clarity. More significantly, callers reported hearing a slight echo effect after each word we spoke. For this reason, we wouldn’t widely recommend the Atomic Bass for iPhone despite the fact that we really liked its sound and casing design; it may well be worth waiting for a follow-up version with a better mic and a 2008 iPod-friendly set of volume and track control buttons.
Radius Live is a slightly different story. Shown here in red, it looks like a more serious earphone, with a larger two-tone body than the others, and it features chrome parts at the Y-split, the cord manager, and a mid-cord interconnect that splits the cord for use with or without separate remote control accessories—none is built-in here, as Radius and other Japanese headphone makers frequently use mid-splitting cables so that Sony and other hardware makers can offer their own headphone-compatible display remotes. Little metal speaker vents on the rear of each earpiece look flashier and more serious than the small vent holes on the two Atomic Bass earpieces.
It’s worth a brief note that all three of these earphones come with three sets of different-sized silicone rubber tips; Radius Live also includes a simple drawstring carrying case. Atomic Bass uses an asymmetrical earphone cord length designed to reduce the tendency of earphones to fall out of your ears from accidental tugging; Atomic Bass with iPhone and Radius Live, surprisingly, use symmetrical cord lengths instead.
Live’s sound is like Atomic Bass’s, possessing rich low-end, but with slightly better treble and midrange performance—noticeably better clarity. Here, proper insertion is even more of a challenge than with Atomic Bass headsets, thanks to the long rubber stempieces and slightly bigger bodies on Radius Live. If you can get them properly into your ears, you’ll find that the sound is more dynamic and interesting than Apple’s same-priced In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic, but the pop-in-and-play factor on the Apple earphones makes them more comfortable and convenient; the remote and mic features also add nice features missing from the Radius design at this price.
Our recommendations are these. If you’re willing to deal with a little insertion challenge, Atomic Bass is a cool-looking, nice-sounding pair of earphones with judicious bass, and Radius Live offers noticeably more deluxe sound at twice the price, with slight comfort inconveniences taking away from what would otherwise be a very strong $80 earpiece. Both are worthy of our general recommendation. Atomic Bass with iPhone offers solid sound for the price on your end, and the best looks of all of these canalphones, but the mic performance won’t thrill people you’re trying to call with the iPhone. It’s worthy of a limited recommendation to users for whom call quality isn’t as critical as cool design.
Atomic Bass for iPhone
Company and Price
Compatible: All iPods, iPhone, iPhone 3G