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First Look: Apple's new in-ear headphones

CNET's Donald Bell takes a look at Apple's new in-ear headphones for the iPod.

Now playing: Watch this: Apple In-Ear headphones

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.

Close up photo of Apple's in-ear headphones.
The metal screen covering the aperture of Apple's new in-ear headphones screws off for easy cleaning. Apple

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 SE110 in-ear headphones, and level with offerings from V-Moda and Ultimate Ears. Plus, Apple's headphones offers users bonus features such as playback control and voice recording for the current generation of iPods.

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.