Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Posted by Jason Dunn in "Digital Home Hardware & Accessories" @ 07:00 AM
What do you get for headphones for under $65? Let's compare two options, one of them twice as expensive as the other. Is that a fair comparison? $65 is affordable for most people who purchase something capable of digital audio playback, so I think it's fair game. I was using my set of Ultimate Ears' Metro.fi 2 earphones ($62.99 from Amazon.com) this morning, and I decided to throw the Zune Premium Headphones into the mix - you know, the ones that come with the Zune 80, but not the Zune 120 - and I was quite disappointed with how poor the Zune headphones sounded. I normally wouldn't criticize free headphones that come with a player, because it's always my advice to toss them and buy a good pair of headphones, but in this case the premium headphones are a product normally sold separately for $39.99 MSRP (retailing for $30 from Amazon) so I think they're fair game for comparison - especially now that there's no modern Zune that includes them.
So how do the Metro.fi headphones compare to the Zune Premium Headphones? There's really no comparison - the Zune headphones lacked any sense of clarity when I was listening to tracks from Flyleaf, while the Metro.fi headphones handled the same songs without a problem. The Zune headphones did better with other songs, and they're certainly better than the default Zune headphones that come with the Flash-based Zunes, and now the Zune 120, but they just didn't measure up to the Metro.fi headphones. I also found that I needed to turn the volume level up on my Zune 80 to about 15 in order to "feel" the music properly from the Zune Premium headphones - the Metro.fi 2's gave me the same feeling with the volume at 12. The Zune headphones have decent bass response, but nothing fantastic - for fantastic bass, you want the Ultimate Ears Super.fi 5 EB earphones. They're pretty expensive at $155 from Amazon.com, but they deliver the best bass response I've ever heard.
An important factor with headphones is durability, and the Metro.fi headphones measure up there as well: I've been using them off and on for over a year now, and the past few months at the gym. No frayed connectors, no drop-outs, and no static. The Metro.fi headphones come with interchangable tips, providing 16 decibels worth of audio dampening, and they're carried in the included small leather pouch - a really nice touch. My biggest gripe with them? Nothing to do with sound: the cable tends to not relax very easily, so when I take them out of the storage pouch I have to fight to get them even a little bit straight. Interestingly enough, the Zune Premium Headphones have this problem nailed: they're fabric-wrapped, and tend to relax quite quickly. That frustration aside, and from a pure sonic standpoint, the Metro.fi headphones are well worth the extra $35 over the Zune Premium Headphones. I'd like to see Microsoft bump the price bracket up to $49.99 MSRP and see if they can get better sounding headphones.
Jason Dunn owns and operates Thoughts Media Inc., a company dedicated to creating the best in online communities. He enjoys photography, mobile devices, blogging, digital media content creation/editing, and pretty much all technology. He lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with his lovely wife, and his sometimes obedient dog.