Cutting the cord: your guide to executive wireless earphones and headphones
Wireless headphones and earphones have become de rigeur since Apple decided to cut the cords from its new iPhones. Here's a look at the best and worst executive options on the Irish market.
Earin M-1 wireless earbuds (€199 from Amazon)
These in-ear wireless buds sometimes crop up for sale in Irish shops: they were recently available in Arnotts. They look nice, but my advice is to avoid.
The buds themselves are neat little devices that did fit nicely (which means they'll probably work with any ear). They also stay in even when running. But almost everything else about the experience was a little frustrating.
Charging them is probably the biggest issue. The device comes with a tubular portable recharging dock where both Earin buds are placed to power up. But getting them in and out of the charger is genuinely difficult. Trying to manoeuvre the lower bud out of its charging point, in particular, is maddening. I kept thinking I was going to break it when tugging it out by the tip.
Pairing the buds to your phone is very easy once you download the Earin app. But the audio is not what you'll want if you're looking for music headphones. It's very limited, probably necessarily so from the small size of the buds themselves. There's a noticeable gap in quality between these and, say, Apple's AirPods (which are cheaper).
There's no microphone either, which means you can't use the Earin buds for phone calls unless you hold the handset up to your face. Finally, these are so, so easy to drop. I'm usually very careful and I dropped one almost immediately trying to get it out of the infernal charger.
To be fair, they have their pluses. The small size makes them much more discreet and Earin provides back up bud covers in different sizes. But, overall, it's hard to recommend these.
2. IN-EAR RECOMMENDATION
Apple AirPods (€179 from CompuB)
Here's a thing: Apple makes (by far) the best quality product in its category for less than other brands charge. The AirPods are excellent and very reasonably priced compared to some wireless in-ear rivals. This is mostly because they have really good, clear audio.
They're also surprisingly firm in your ear. I have gone walking and jogging in them without issue. Critical, as one of the questions people have is "will they stay in my ear?"
I did, however, feel the need to bring the small recharging case which automatically recharges them when you put them into it. (That case, in turn, can be recharged with any ordinary iPhone or iPad Lightning cable.)
The battery life on the AirPods is between four and five hours on a full charge, which is comparable to other wireless headsets. However, 15 minutes in the carrier case gives you around two hours and 40 minutes of additional battery life in the AirPods.
The recharging case is one of the highlights of the AirPods from a design perspective. The moment you open the case, the AirPods look to connect with your iPhone: a message on your screen prompts you and you're all hooked up. Another nice touch is the inclusion of the accelerometers and sensors, which stop a live audio connection if an AirPod is removed (or falls out).
Each AirPod has a microphone as well as any in-ear speaker. As a basic level, that means that you can use them as hands-free accessories for phone calls. Lastly, the AirPods work with almost any Bluetooth audio source.
3. OVER-EAR RECOMMENDATION
Sony MDR-1000X (€469 from Argos)
There seems to be a shortage of these at present, but they're well worth getting. Overall, they have the best mix of quality, comfort and noise-cancellation of any sub-€500 headphones.
It's incredibly quiet. Once on your head, at least 80pc of all you can normally hear is muffled right out. It works especially well for ongoing external rackets such as loud hums or whirs. It also works reasonably well for human voices, which are harder to deaden.
The market is fierce and for €400, you're getting into Bose Quiet Comfort territory - the brand leader. So it's just as well that Sony has loaded up on some other tricks. One is the ability to pause sounds temporarily when you touch your finger on the side of the speaker. This is a shortcut for when someone comes over and asks you something or you walk into a shop and need to talk to the person behind the counter.
Another nice touch is what Sony calls 'Sense Engine': a variety of adjustments you can make to the noise-cancelling features. The quality of the audio is top notch, too. Sony has packed a lot of its latest drivers in and you can hear it in the results. There's a microphone on board which means you can make or take calls when paired to a phone.
They aren't absolutely perfect. When I swivelled my head, the cups budged a small bit, letting in some external noise. But this is a minor quibble. With really nice leather, these headphones are an excellent choice if you want decent noise-cancelling cans.