It was easy to miss, but during last Tuesday's flurry of iPod announcements Apple also introduced two new sets of headphones. The first headphones unveiled were a modest pair of $29 earbuds that include an in-line set of playback controls on the cable (play/pause/skip) along with a tiny microphone. Nothing particularly exciting about these except that they may be the cheapest way to activate the voice-recording feature included on the new iPod Nano, Touch, and Classic. When I asked the nearby Apple rep if these earbuds offered any sound improvement over the standard bundled pair, he shook his head and offered me these.
Apple's in-ear headphones look and feel very nice. I didn't have chance to hear them--but it would have been a lost cause in the din of the product demos taking place behind me. I can tell you this: they include two balanced-armature drivers in each earpiece; three pairs of differently-sized silicone ear tips; a screw-on metal grille covering the aperture; two extra replacement grilles; a plastic case with a cable wrap; and the same in-line controls and microphone included on the previously mentioned earbuds. They also cost $79.
Apple makes some amazing software and hardware, but I had doubts that they could (or would) devote internal resources to designing a pair of headphones as nice as the ones I was holding. I naively asked the Apple rep next to me who they had worked with to make these headphones. No comment.
I have a theory about who's cooking up Apple's high-end earphones (any guesses?), but in the end, it doesn't matter. I suspect Apple will sell a shedload of these things, especially to customers who've only ever heard their music through the tin-pan earbuds that come bundled with their iPod. The $79 price point puts the product below Shure's entry-level
Both pairs of Apple's new headphones will be available in October of this year. To see the Apple In-Ear headphones in action, you can take a look at my First Look video.
Update: the Apple iPhone 3GS is capable of supporting both the remote clicker and volume controls used on the in-ear headphones. Previous iPhone models still lack support for the headphones' remote volume control feature.