Editors' note: The Timbre earphones without the mic have been updated to reflect a slightly higher score because they do not suffer from the cut-out and static issues that the persisted with some MP3 players when using the version with the mic.
Speakers made for home audio setups are encased in cabinets constructed of a variety of materials, but many high-end models stick to solid-wood enclosures. The argument is that this particular natural material offers superior acoustics, so it comes as no surprise that we're beginning to see more and more earphones incorporating wood into the earpieces. iFrogz provides one example with its Ear Pollution Timbre earbuds, an inexpensive pair that provides very natural-sounding audio and ear-vibrating bass.
The Ear Pollution Timbre earphones are available in two models: a standard MP3 player version that sells for $39.99 and an iPhone/smartphone set with an inline mic and a price of $49.99. Both options come in a choice of two finishes, either light or dark, and feature average-size cylindrical earpieces. These are ensconced mainly in wood, though the speaker end is actually constructed of a metallic plastic. Descending from each earbud is a relatively thin, black Y cable that meets 14 inches down to form one thicker cable. The cord continues for an additional 30 inches before terminating in a nickel-plated straight plug. All in all, the cable is quite thin and seems pretty fragile, which is typical of earbuds in this price range.
Although the Timbre earphones aren't overly large, they're not the most ergonomic set we've come across, mainly because the music port is fairly big around. That said, we were able to achieve a reasonably comfortable fit from the smallest of the three sets of silicone sleeves that are included in the package. Plus, the earbuds felt secure enough in our ears to withstand some moderate activity, though of course fit will be different for everyone.
One thing can be said for certain of the Timbre earphones and that is that they sound noticeably different from most other earbuds we've tested. First of all, audio comes across as much more open-sounding than what is typical with in-ear 'phones. Also, lows sound exceptionally natural--there's really no other way to put it. Sure, bass is not going to compare with what you experience with actual speakers, but the resonance of the lows coming from the Timbres is comparable to that of wood-encased speakers. That being said, the reverberation inside the housing can give bass a muffled or muddy quality in certain cases.
As for general sound quality, we found that some genres tended to shine more than others. Almost unsurprisingly, "older" music--i.e., classic rock, new wave, oldies, jazz--sounds great, with good high-end detail and warm mids. Mellow electronica and downtempo tunes (Fever Ray, Salmonella Dub) are also well-represented by the Timbre earphones. However, some rap, pop, and alt-rock comes across as overly frantic and harsh and tends to suffer from more low-end muddiness. Still, on the whole, the Ear Pollution Timbre headphones are an excellent value in terms of sound quality for the money. However, those who own the iPod Touch or Nano should be aware that the version with the mic is not an appropriate choice for their sound recording needs because the metal headphone jack housing causes interference.