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Separate the sound from the fury: 5 in-ear headphones for your smartphone

Mark Sullivan | Feb. 3, 2014
We found lots of things to like, and some things to dislike in popular new in-ear headphones from Beats, Bose, Bowers & Wilkins, Harman Kardon and Shure.

I was surprised by the materials and general construction of these earphones. The outside of the ear pieces are made with cheap-looking black-and-silver plastic. The cord is built with a plastic material that's flexible, but it appears vulnerable to cuts.

The MIE2is include a volume control/call mute toggle switch/microphone on the cord or taking calls, which doesn't appear to be sturdily built but seems to work properly.

If the design and construction of the the MIE2is is suspect, the sound they deliver is even more so. They kick out far less sound than the other headphones in this roundup, hitting a volume ceiling long before I reached "rock out" volume level. The earphones themselves have a rubber tip that's supposed to fit inside your ear canal. The tip has a wing that's supposed to tuck up under the cartilage ridge on your ear to hold the ear piece in your ear. This all looks good on paper, but I could not get the ear piece to fit securely in my ear, and the little plastic wing didn't help.

In my tests, music sounded remote and boxed in, far from the expansive and immersive sound I heard from the SE215. The bass had no kick, the mids no punch, and the highs no crispness.

I'm sorry to give a Bose product such a negative review, because I have liked many other products from the company. But the only thing I can see that props up the price of these headphones is the Bose name.

Beats Tour In-Ear ($150)
 

As with the over-ear headphones Beats makes, the Beats Tour in-ear headphones feature a very frontal, in-your-face sound, especially with rock music.

With in-ears, you're essentially mainlining sound into your brain. They perform well because they need only fill a small cavity in front of your eardrum with sound. But there just isn't much room there to reproduce the dimensionality and depth of a sound recording (assuming the recording has those things).

With rock music (like the Band of Horses stuff I was testing with), the bass was very present yet well-contained in the Tours. I found the mids and high-mids to be a little overbearing at times, while the high end had a smoothness about it.

Listening to music like Aesop Rock, it's pretty easy to tell that these phones are tuned for lots of bass, so it's a credit to the phones that big hip hop bass doesn't muddy up everything else.

Like the Studio over-ear phones, the Tour in-ears have a volume controller on the cord with a microphone for taking calls. A button between the volume buttons switches between music and phone calls, and, held down, can trigger Siri on iPhones.

 

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