Apple has been dragging its feet with the release of its new iPod Touch compatible, remote control headphones with mic. Neither the in-ear nor the regular earbuds have yet made it into the stores, which has given the third-party makers a head start. Grifin sent us a pair of its TuneBuds Mobile earbuds to try out. Here’s how they fared.
The TuneBuds are of the in-ear type, and will work with many new iPods. The iPhone gets to take advantage of all the features. The inline button will answer and hang up calls, pause, play and skip songs, both forward and back, and the microphone will also let you record sound. The 2G iPod Touch gets all of this except the part pertaining to telephone calls, and the 4G iPod Nano will work with the mic, but not the remote controls, as will the 120GB Classic.
So, how does the hardware shape up? There are three different sized rubber grommets which push onto the plastic inner section, so unless you are a ninety-year old man with big flapping lugs or a mewling babe, you should be able to get them to fit. One in, the buds stay put. This is their greatest advantage over normal earbuds, which require constant – and annoying – readjustment. The rubber doesn’t seal out external sound completely, but I like that — I listen to podcasts while riding a bike and I like to hear the traffic.
The headphone cords are particularly nice. They have a woven sleeve which feels tough and prevents tangles — you can throw these in your pocket and they won’t turn into a rats’ nest of knots. The switch, too seems solid yet still light. The switch and mic are both housed inside a small cylinder which sits inline with one of the two cords which go to your ear. This means that the mic is right by your mouth for phone calls.
The call quality is, I think, fine. I didn’t try them out with an iPhone, but the TuneBuds turn an iPod Touch into a VoIP phone. That’s right. Using VoIP software like Fring, you can make Skype calls direct from your iPod over WiFi. It works great, although the Fring call quality was a little shaky. Here’s how the conversation went:
Me: Can you hear me?
The Lady: Of course. You’re in the next room.
Me: Yes, but can you hear me on Skype?
The Lady: It works!
Recording voice notes also works great. I tried it with Griffin’s own iTalk, which is designed to, well, record your voice. Despite having a terrible cold, I sounded clear and free of background noise.
Next, music. The TuneBuds sound a lot better than the earbuds that ship with the iPod, but that’s not hard. In fact, when we first tried them out, the Lady and I both heard a dreadful hissing. This turned out to be on the MP3 track, and I hadn’t noticed it before with the Apple ‘buds. The Griffins won’t replace your high-end cans, though. While not tinny, there is a rather lot of shrill top-end to the music. Treble can sound harsh. A quick trip to the iPod’s EQ screen is in order. The "Treble Reducer" setting takes care of everything.
The Remote control works fine. One click for play/pause; two clicks to skip forward and three to skip back. It’s simple and easy. But it brings us on to the fatal flaw with the review unit. If you jiggle the mini-jack in the socket, the iPod pauses. Or starts up. It’s completely repeatable, and renders the headphones unusable for anything other than listening at a desk, or while carefully cradling the rig in your hands. This could, however, be a fault with this particular unit.
How annoying is it? Aside from music cutting in and out at random, the worst part is that the iPod can switch itself on. This may kill the batteries, and it may also leave you a few minutes or a few hours ahead in podcasts or in audio books.
To be fair, I have only tested these properly with the 2G iPod Touch, so they may fare better with the iPhone or the new Nano. I have some suspicions as to the problem. Take a look at this closeup:
Do you see it? Of course you do, you smart, observant reader. The iPod’s jack socket is rimmed with metal, and the shape of it doesn’t really hold a jack plug steady. I suspect that the plug is bending in my pocket and metal is touching metal, causing a short. That’s speculation, but it seems to fit the facts.
So, should you buy them? Aside from the weird bug, they’re fine. They sound better than the $30 Apple buds, and they’re certainly better put together (my Apple ‘buds usually only last a few months). Until Apple actually releases its new mic-equipped earbuds, we can’t compare. We can take a look at the prices, though. The TuneBuds are $40. The Apple in-ear cans will be $80. They also come with a neat little case, which I will probably have lost by the time I finish writing this review:
To sum up. A good, cheap alternative to Apple’s own headphones. They also have the advantage of not being white. The TuneBuds are sadly crippled with the iPod Touch, though, due to the weird, and almost random, track skipping error. We’ll be looking into that. Until then, if you want remote control and a microphone for your iPod, you don’t have much choice.
Product page [Griffin]
- Griffin TuneBuds Now Support iPods Touch, Nano and Classic …
- Griffin iTalk: Free Voice Recording for iPhone
- Fring. More Mobile VOIP