Apple’s white buds might not have the best reputation among audiophiles, but if you look around any train, bus or busy high street, you’ll see a large number of people using them on a daily basis.
With these Lightning connecter-toting EarPods, an update to the last-gen Earpods with 3.5mm connection, that’s understandable.
Not only are they included in the box with the iPhone 7, they’re also among just a handful of Lightning in-ears currently available, meaning they don’t require the fiddly 3.5mm adapter.
But are they actually good enough to justify their £29 price tag?
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Bundled earbuds are very rarely of good enough quality to challenge a standalone pair – HTC and Sony have made valiant efforts, but we’ve always preferred to upgrade to something affordable like the SoundMagic E10C.
Apple’s too are passable, and it’s easy to see why people stick with them. Unlike some of the competition at this price, the EarPods are weighty and full-bodied, and never sound hard or harsh, even at volume.
This means they never show up poorer quality recordings or streams, which works well for earbuds intended to be used with a smartphone.
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Play Nikes by Frank Ocean and the bass drum instrumental offers a warm and hefty whallop, with an accompanying snare that sits on the right side of aggressive.
The autotuned vocal is clear and direct, sitting comfortably on top of the instrumental, and never sounds recessed or lost in the mix.
The bass is a little bloated and poorly defined though. Although its ample quantity certainly helps deliver a sense of solidity to a less-than-perfect recording, it lacks the control and agility to offer a real sense of authority.
It also affects timing, which isn’t as snappy as on the SoundMagic E10Cs. It means the EarPods lack the attack and enthusiasm we’d want for a pair of earphones to really keep us engaged for long listening periods.
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They also lack the detail and dynamism of the E10Cs. They’re a smoother, more laid-back listen, but because they fail to highlight the changes of tempo and dynamic intensity, they tend to sound rather flat in the process.
That smooth balance also means they brush over finer details and nuance in vocals and instrumentals, which the more upfront and revealing E10Cs pick up without second thought.
Once again, this might work in the favour of lesser recordings, but better quality streams and CD rips lose out.
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Build and comfort
We also still struggle with their fit. Being hard plastic with no way of adjusting their shape via interchangeable tips means they either will or won’t suit your ears.
If it’s a poor fit, you’ll struggle to keep the outside world out, though the leakiness they were originally known for is much improved here – at decent volumes you shouldn’t bother your fellow commuter too much.
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It’s safe to say that Apple’s Lightning EarPods still won’t appeal to audiophiles. They’re overly smooth, lacking the detail, definition and dynamics to really do good quality recordings justice.
Despite these grumbles, many will still find them fit for purpose – that is, freebie headphones for short bursts of streamed music to while away the commute.
If you do happen to lose your included pair, there are better budget earphones out there you should consider investing in. For bundled buds, they’re just okay – and ironically that actually makes them better than most.
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