iPhone Life magazine

How to Buy Earbuds with Two Examples: EDM Universe Earbuds and DryCase DryBuds

Drivers, ohms, impedance. Audiophiles may want to delve into all of the specifications for headphones, but for the rest of us, it comes down to two things: do the headphones sound good and do they do whatever special thing we bought a particular pair of headphones for?

Over the last couple of months I've tested dozens of headsets; some Bluetooth, some not. This review will look at two pairs of headphones, one designed for electronic music, and another designed to allow you to listen to music while in the rain—or even the pool.

Earbud Evaluation Criteria

Although sounding good and meeting a particular need works as a proxy for most of the items below, it is important that you consider this entire list of items before making an earbud-style headphone purchase:

  • Do the earbuds fit your ear well?

  • Do the earbuds sound good for the kind of music you are listening to?

  • Do the earbuds fit a particular lifestyle choice well?

  • Do they include features you want (like noise cancelation or noise isolation)

  • Can you return them if they don't work for you?

  • Are they annoying (do they tangle easily, can you figure out how to put them on)?

  • Do they include phone-specific features (like remote control)?

  • Do they include a microphone, and if so, does it work well for voice calls?

Now let's take a look at a couple of products and see how they fair against these criteria.
 

1. EDM Universe In-Ear Headphones with Headset Functionality and Universal Volume Control ($49.95)

These powerful little headphones sell as complements designed specifically for listening to electronic dance music. I cranked up Daft Punk and was impressed by the overall experience. Most earbuds are pretty under-designed affairs even at the $50 level. The EDM Universe pair delivers a high-quality design that includes a flat, tangle-free cord, a nice carrying case, and angled buds that make wearing them more comfortable. I just wore them on a plane for two hours straight with no irritation. And though I didn’t listen to electronic music, I did find what I was listening to (the movie Cloud Atlas) pleasurable. Interchangeable ear tips help create a better fit and improved acoustic isolation.

I mentioned a plane. A plane is usually home to my UE6000 or Bose Quiet Comfort headphones. But this time I was seated in the first row of coach. In theory, no place to put stuff. So I stuffed my Scott eVest with my iPhone and EDM headphones, along with an external battery. I could hear just fine. EDM Universe headphones aren't noise canceling, but they have enough of a buffer between the outside world and the listening experience that I could hear just fine. If you are in a night club trying to overcome the ambient music, they might not completely block it, but they will still let you dance to your own beat.

My only complaint about these headphones came from the rather cheap and ill-conceived "shirt clip" that is supposed to keep the headphones fastened to clothing. It doesn't stay fastened to the headphone cord, which means its is likely to get lost before it gets used. That's a minor complaint as I don't know too many people who actually clip their headphones to their clothing anyway.

The cool colors, great sound, and interesting design make these ideal earbuds for the target audience. And they are a pretty good product even for people who listen to rock & roll or jazz.

 

2. DryCase DryBuds Sport ($39.99)

DryCase offers a number of products that help keep electronics dry, or electronics that you can get wet. These headphone fit into the later category.

Since I live in Seattle, I was excited by the thought of waterproof headphones. Unfortunately, DryCase concentrated on the top line and not the bottom line. These headphones are waterproof, but they aren't very good headphones.

First of all, the cables get tangled pretty quickly once out of the box. After that, you have to play around to figure out which ear they go into, as they aren't labeled, and unlike most earbuds, the microphone is on the left, not the right. Then you have to figure out how to get them over your ear and into your ear cannel. Hopefully the default inserts work, because if they don't, you have to untangle yourself from the DryBuds Sport, in order to try a different size silicon insert (inserts which do, by-the-way, exchange pretty easily).

Usually I like over the ear headphones because they feel more secure. The twisty rubber design of these headphones, while likely to keep them on your ear during a storm, won't likely keep them firmly planted in your ear, diminishing the experience. The microphone comes with plenty of background noise.

Perhaps least appealing thing is the lack of remote features, which means to actually use your iPhone or iPod, you need to expose them to the elements. DryCase does sell cases designed for total submersion, but if you don't have one of those, or find outfitting your phone with one too cumbersome for casual use, then your phone might get wet.

DryBuds are a good idea that needs another design pass. DryCase should consider high quality, perhaps flat, non-tangle cable and a pivot that helps assure a good fit between ear and earbud. They do sell a non-sports version that may fit the ear better, but I haven't evaluated those. The company needs to make sure that the entire experience is good, not just that their headphones still work after a dunk in the pool.

 

EDM Universe In-Ear Headphones with Headset Functionality and Universal Volume Control delivers on the promise for the most part with stylish design and good packaging. DryCase, however, misses the mark with the DryBuds Sport, which are just too unwieldy for day-to-day use, and don't perform well enough as headphones for their specialized niche of waterproof use.

Of all of the tech available, earbuds are perhaps the most personal, because they cross that line between the external world and the internal world. And with all the earbuds coming from China, choosing a good quality pair can be pretty daunting. Unlike shoes, you can't try on dozens before you buy, but do really look at the features, read reviews, and make sure you can return a pair if you end up disappointed even after you do your homework. Use the criteria at the top of the article and take the time to shop. Buy earbuds that do more than look cool: make sure they deliver the lifestyle and audio experience you really want.
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Daniel Rasmus's picture

Daniel W. Rasmus, the author of Listening to the Future and Management by Design, is a strategist, industry analyst, and business correspondent for iPhone Life magazine. Prior to starting his own consulting practice, Rasmus was the Director of Business Insights at Microsoft Corporation, where he helped the company envision how people will work in the future.

Before joining Microsoft, Rasmus was Research Vice President at the Giga Information Group and Forrester Research Inc. Rasmus also is an internationally recognized speaker. He blogs regularly for Fast Company and on his own blog, Your Future in Context. His education-related work can be found at Learning Reimagined.