Thursday, September 17, 2009

iFrogz Timbre Earbuds a Deft Mix of Sound, Looks and Price

iPhone owners looking for a step-up from the earbuds that come with the device may want to consider iFrogz's EarPollution Timbre set. Their wood/brushed metal aesthetic is eye-catching, their sound quality is an improvement over the basic iPhone buds, and the microphone is much better at picking up phone conversations.

There are hundreds of decent sets of headphones and earbuds available for iPods, and there are dozens made specifically for the iPhone, including the now ubiquitous white earbuds that ship with the devices. But what if you'd like something a little different, yet aren't willing to shell out audiophile-level cash?

ifrogz EarPollution Timbre earbuds with mic
Enter the iFrogz's EarPollution Timbre With Mic. The sound-isolating earbuds boast a natural wood body that caught my eye when they were released this summer, but it took a while to get a pair sent over for review -- apparently there were some good deals online, and iFrogz sold out more quickly than expected.

iFrogz Who?
iFrogz is also a silicone case manufacturer, focusing on cases and accessories for Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPod and iPhone lines -- with some additional accessories for similar devices from other manufacturers. On the sound front, iFrogz's claim to fame is its line of customizable EarPollution headphones, like the NervePipes, which are over-the-ear headphones. Buyers can customize the headband, hinges, speakers, and ear cushions with a dizzying set of color choices and trendy artwork. Of course, they're readily available online in a variety of pre-selected choices, too.
Good Looks, Great Mic
Keeping with the overall theme of iFrogz products, the EarPollution Timbre with Mic buds are designed to look sharp. With a wood base and chamber, coupled with a brushed silver metal band and black earbuds, they have a clean style that you don't see every day.
They also feature a high-definition microphone that supports the iPhone and most BlackBerry models. Like Apple's earbuds that ship with the iPhone, the mic is placed in a similar position on the right earbud. Click it to answer calls or pause tracks.
The mic itself worked surprisingly well. First, when recording using the built-in recorder on my iPhone, it picked up my voice well, even with background noise and some wind. Where it really shined, however, was in conversation -- callers on the other end reported that they could consistently hear me well. I was surprised because of my experience with Apple's standard earbuds and mic -- callers would report losing my voice or the loudness dropping, and I'd have to resort to holding the cord so the mic was consistently positioned near my mouth. Not a problem with the EarPollution Timbre.
How's the Sound?
While Apple's standard iPhone earbuds are OK, they aren't sound-isolating earbuds, which means they can move and shift inside your ear. When in the right position, they can sound great, but shift your head too fast and suddenly they sound like a tin can and string. With in-the-ear earbuds, of course, the speakers are positioned in one place, and they tend to stay there. This immediately gives you a listening advantage, which is one reason why Apple's premium US$79 Apple In-Ear Headphones With Remote and Mic are the in-ear variety.
When I first inserted the Timbre earbuds and started listening, frankly, I was disappointed -- and then I remembered that there's a whole school of thought that believes that speakers need a break-in period before they work out the stiffness and sound richer. I'm not sure if this true or a trick of the imagination, but I promptly stuck them into my MacBook (but not my ears) and let them run for a few hours. The result?
Definitely better, at least to my non-audiophile ears. I can't say that I was blown away, but they were entirely usable -- and certainly better than the standard units that shipped with my iPhone.
The Tech Specs
The driver unit is 10 mm; impedance is 16 ohms; sensitivity 103 dB; frequency response is 20 Hz to 20Khz. The cord length is a perfect 1.1 meters, and the plug is, of course, 3.5 mm.
Unfortunately, the mic control unit doesn't let you adjust the volume, nor does it let you skip ahead to the next track in a playlist.
If you're buying the EarPollution Timbre with Mic from the online store, they'll cost you $49.99, but I found them as low as $20.32 (with $6.96 shipping) on , with a couple of other reputable outlets coming in in the mid-30s.
Overall, the EarPollution Timbre with Mic gives iPhone users a compelling, inexpensive option for in-ear earbuds. They look great, sound fine, and most importantly, they come in at a palatable price point -- particularly if you shop around.

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