Review: Low-Cost Earphones
Even if the earphones that came with the cheap, unbranded, Mp3 player I bought weren’t broken, they were of such low quality that I would have had to buy a new pair anyway. In fact I ended up buying not one, but three pairs of low-cost earphones, so it is with first-hand experience that I can write the following review.
With the promise of ‘deep bass’ I purchased the Sony MDR-EX50LP in-ear canal phones (earphones that are designed to fit partially into the ear canal). There were other reputable brands on offer for the same price, around £14.50 from a large electronic retailer, but I chose Sony because they came with three sizes of ‘bung’ – the rubber part attached to the end of the transducer – to suite different sizes of ear canal. However, I really didn’t like the idea of pushing something inside my ear canal, particularly as I had recently read an article on the safety of cotton buds, where a doctor advised not to attempt to put anything smaller than an elbow into your ear! But judging from the number of canal phones on display they were clearly the most popular.
The next pair I bought were the Sony MDR-E10LP earphones, a more traditional pair of earphones that you simply place in your ear. I picked these up for around £7.00 at my local supermarket.
Not entirely satisfied with either of these I bought a third pair, this time the on-ear clip-on type, for around £9.50, and for consistency I again chose Sony. Although these are technically classified as headphones, as they sit on the ear as opposed to inside it, I’ve included them in this review as they are small, don’t have a headband, and are clearly designed to be used with portable devices.
Over the course of a week or so I tested all the earphones out on the street, and the results, which are entirely subjective, are shown in the table below.
The promise of ‘deep bass’ simply wasn’t fulfilled, from the MDR-EX50LPs. The treble seemed brighter than the other earphones on test, but earphones this small already have a healthy high frequency response. Pushed far enough into the ear canal they provided the best isolation from external sounds, but so much so that I could clearly hear myself breathing. Relaxed on a train, with a low breathing rate, this may not be too much of an issue, but on a brisk walk I found it mildly irritating to hear myself inhale and exhale as if I were a scuba diver. Although these were the most expensive of the three on test here, they were the least satisfying in terms of comfort, and offered no real improvement in sound quality.
The Sony MDR-E10LP standard type earphones lived pretty much up to expectation. They were nothing special but did their job. Sitting comfortably in the ear they provided some attenuation of background noise. The treble was fine, and the bass was as I expected from small earphones: limited. Nevertheless, their sound was superior to the MDR-50LPs. These earphones come with a foam cover to stretch over the transducer housing, but are shown in the photograph without this attached.>
The Sony MDR-Q21LP earphones had, without a doubt, the best sound quality. The treble was fine, and the bass, although not brilliant, was far better than the other earphones reviewed here. Isolation from outside noise wasn’t one of the strong points though, and on a windy day sometimes the sound of the wind rushing between the ear and the driver could be heard. These headphones have clips that go around the ear to keep them in place. The clips are largely unseen, but some might argue that these headphones are the least attractive to be seen wearing. However, for people who don’t view listening devices as fashion accessories this won’t be a problem.
I found myself alternating between the MDR-E10LP standard earphones, and the MDR-Q21LP headphones on my daily walks. The standard type are quicker to put on, but the on-ear type offer better sound quality. For podcasts I like the MDR-E10LP standard type, but for music I prefer the MDR-Q21LP headphones. Either way, theMDR-EX50LPin-ear canal phones don’t even get a look-in.
Although I selected the Sony brand for my test, I guess other brands in the same price range would have turned in similar results. And I can’t help thinking that they might all be made in the same factory in China, regardless of the brand stamped on them! But that’s pure speculation on my part.