Apple EarPods (with Remote and Mic) review: Apple EarPods (with Remote and Mic)

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The Good The Apple EarPods offer mostly impressive sound, with good detail and better bass than Apple's previous headphones. They're also lightweight, with a comfortable fit, and have an integrated inline remote and microphone for making calls and controlling your music playback.

The Bad Some people may find that the EarPods don't fit securely in their ears, and these earbuds also let in a lot of sound and leak a little sound, too.

The Bottom Line Apple's EarPods offer much-improved sound over the previous standard-issue earbuds, but they won't fit all ears equally well -- and that fit will determine whether you think they're great or just so-so.

6.9 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Sound 7
  • Value 6

As part of the launch of the iPhone 5 and new iPod Touch and iPod Nano, Apple introduced a set of completely redesigned earbud headphones, the EarPods. Apple says they were three years in the making.

These in-ear headphones have a built-in microphone for making calls and an inline remote with volume and transport controls.

The EarPods are included with all of Apple's new iPhones and iPods and will also be offered as a separate accessory for $29.

The EarPods in their protective case (included). Sarah Tew/CNET

Big sound improvement
Earlier Apple headphones were the black sheep of the company's product family: unlike the world-class iconic designs of the iPod, iPhone, MacBook, and iMac, the original Apple headphones lagged behind nearly all other competitors. The first-generation models (the freebies that were included with all iPod models) were downright terrible. The 2004-era In-Ear model was OK, and the 2008 iPhone-friendly In-Ear headset was better still -- but still short of "insanely great," especially compared with the increasingly long list of cheap but great-sounding headphones we've been seeing.

Thankfully, the EarPods hit the reset button in the sonics department. Apple has really improved the sound; the EarPods offer much more bass and generally clean, pleasant sound. Their fit is significantly better, too (I could never use the previous model because it simply didn't fit my ear), but the design is not without its potential shortcomings. I found the EarPods quite comfortable to wear but the one ding against them is that they didn't fit all that securely. Of course, ears come in all shapes and sizes, and the EarPods may fit some ears more snugly than others, but I had a few editors try them and they agreed that they don't offer the most secure fit.

The EarPods have one main side-firing driver along with two smaller apertures that output sound. Sarah Tew/CNET

The other small downside is that they leak some sound. Apple has said it has worked to reduce sound leakage, and it's not as bad as I thought it would be, but there's still some spillage as you bring the volume up to higher levels.

The EarPods slightly resemble Bose's MIE2i in-ear headphones in the sense that they are both made of hard plastic, have side-firing drivers (the EarPods also have two smaller apertures on the bud that output sound), and don't feature a noise-isolating design (translation: you don't jam a set of silicone eartips into your ears). However, the Bose earphones, which at $129 cost $100 more, have added silicone covers, including a set of wings that keep the earphones securely in place. The EarPods do not have any extra silicone pieces; the hard, smooth, sculpted buds are all you get.

Close-up of the inline remote (with microphone). You hold the center of the button to call up Siri, and tap twice to advance a track. Sarah Tew/CNET

Great, as a freebie
Let me be clear about one thing. I think anybody who gets these as part of an iPhone or iPod package will be happy with them. Most earbuds and headsets that come with mobile devices these days range from mediocre to poor. In comparison with what you usually get, the EarPods are excellent. On top of the bigger, richer bass, they simply sound more open and less canned or recessed. You do lose a little low-end sound by not having a tight seal, but the bass is surprisingly full, and while the midrange is a bit aggressive, I think Apple has a done a good job of creating a sound profile that's well suited for a broad range of musical genres. It's not going to please everyone, but it's going to please a majority of folks.