Reference Review: this review is only provided as a reference. By looking at my comments and thoughts about a product you are familiar with, you can better gauge how my tastes match yours. I hope it helps.
This review is for the standard earphones provided with the Apple iPhone 3GS. These headphones include a microphone for phone calls, but I won’t be referring to that at all – this is all about the sound from the earbuds. As with all earbud reviews, I tested these earphones with the foam socks on for the sake of comfort.
The first impression of the iPhone Earphones in one word is “muffled”. The top end disappears into a muddy nothingness and lacks detail and clarity. The bass is OK and the vocals are clear and forward. The vocal prominence probably makes sense for a telephone headset and it doesn’t hurt the sound style at all. Here are some specific ratings:
Attack: These earphones have only a moderate attack. There is a bit of punch, but it’s not as potent as it could be. At a comfortable, moderate volume you can feel a little bit of the bass as it hits your eardrum, but it’s not “punchy”. As a result, the bass lacks definition and can get really muddy.
Rating: 4.5 / 10
Mass: Similar to the attack in the bass, there is some mass or body behind it, but it’s not as solid as it could be. Listening to “Whatever Lola Wants”, there’s a definite presence in the bass, but it’s not as full as it should be.
Rating: 5 / 10
Vocals / Mids
The vocals and mids are the most pronounced element of the sound signature for these earphones, but the upper end of vocals trails off into the muddiness of the treble. The result is a smooth and easy-to-listen-to sound, but a definite lack in clarity and detail. A lack of clarity and detail means a lack of excitement and that probably sums up the iPhone earphones… unexciting, but ok.
Rating: 5.5 / 10
You’ve probably already gathered that detail is not the strong point for the iPhone earphones. They are muddy at the top and muddy at the bottom. There’s no harshness, which is nice, but there’s no excitement either. They’re bland and a bit mushy. Listening to “Cheers Darlin'” you can hear parts of the very fine background accompaniment, but not the full picture. It sounds like an electronic sound rather than strings played col legno (where the wood of the bow is used to hit the strings and create a percussive sound). The iPhone earphones provide a solid wall of sound with no major gaps, but you can’t hear the individual bricks (so to speak).
Rating: 4 / 10
The staging for these earphones is quite narrow and not particularly well defined. This is largely due to the muddy top-end which just can’t give enough cues to our ears to define the placement of each instrument. There is some perception of separation, but it’s not wide and clearly defined like higher quality earphones.
Rating: 2.5 / 10
Note: Although I haven’t written it yet, I do plan to share more about how we hear sound and how different elements of sound reproduction, recordings and compression affect our perception of the sound. Check under Categories for more information and let me know via the comments section if you want to know something specific.
As you’d expect for a standard inclusion telephone earphone, these don’t set the audio world on fire, but they are better than many other included earphones. You’re probably only reading this as a reference to better understand my reviews of devices you’d actually buy so I’ll cut to the chase. These earphones don’t make me want to clean out my ears from muddiness or plug my ears with cotton woll from harshness. The sound is all a bit soft around the edges, but it’s bearable and easy to listen to if you’re not listening critically.
Rating: 4.5 / 10