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iLuv City Lights in-ear headphones review: Lots of bass, little clarity for seven bucks

For around $7, the iLuv City Lights are well-designed budget earphones, though they push the bass a little too hard at the expense of clarity.

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David Carnoy
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David Carnoy

Executive Editor / Reviews

Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.

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In my quest to review budget in-ear earphones, I've managed to dig up some very good products for less than $10, including the Panasonic ErgoFit RP-HJE120 and the JVC Gumy Plus. Next up on the list: iLuv's iEP322BLK City Lights earphones, which have received very favorable reviews on Amazon.

iLuv_iEP322BLK_City_Lights__35054228_03.jpg
6.4

iLuv City Lights in-ear headphones

The Good

The <b>iLuv City Lights</b> in-ear headphones are comfortable, attractive looking, and seem to be built reasonably well for their ultralow price tag. They also pump out a lot of bass.

The Bad

Their high-end (treble) performance is lackluster, so they lack clarity; no inline remote/microphone for making cell-phone calls.

The Bottom Line

For around $7, the iLuv City Lights are well-designed budget earphones, but they push the bass a little too hard at the expense of clarity.

The City Lights have a similar design to both the Panasonic and the JVC, but this is a more bass-heavy earphone that's got some thump to it. I didn't like it as much as its more natural and balanced-sounding competitors, but if bigger bass is what you're after, you'll certainly get a lot of it for your money with this earphone.

Design and features
Like the ErgoFit RP-HJE120 and Gumy Plus, these are sort of hybrid earphones; part hard earbud like your basic Apple earbud and part soft bud. For all I know, they're all made in the same factory in China.

This model is available in several different color options and comes with three different-size pairs of silicone eartips. At this price, you're more apt to see hard-bud earphones, but being able to jam the soft tips into your ears helps with sound isolation and maximizes the bass output.

The City Lights are available in multiple colors. Sarah Tew/CNET

The City Lights are equipped with 13.5mm "Mega Bass" drivers, which would explain why its housing is a bit larger than the ErgoFit RP-HJE120, which has 9mm drivers.

While the iLuvs are comfortable and stayed in my ears well, I liked the fit of the Panasonics and JVCs a touch better.

The cord is somewhat tangle-resistant. Sarah Tew/CNET

As you might expect for a $7 pair of headphones, you don't get anything in the way of extras: no inline remote/microphone for making cell phone calls, nor any sort of carrying case.

While the Panasonic HJE120s have an L-shaped plug, the City Lights have a compact straight plug that will be easier to fit into more smartphone cases but may not be as sturdy as an L-shaped plug.

The City Lights' cord is more tangle-resistant than the ultraslim cord found on the ErgoFit RP-HJE120, but it's not as much so as the the flat, linguine-style cord found on some in-ear headphones.

Three different sized silicon eartips are included; that's it as far as extras go. Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance
Today's contemporary listeners like bass, which probably explains the plethora of favorable user reviews of the City Lights. And while there's no doubt they deliver lots of bass, the earphones' high-end (treble) performance is decidedly lackluster. They lack clarity and sparkle, and come off sounding fairly dull ("muddy" would be a more critical way to say the same thing).

I don't expect a whole lot from $7 in-earphones, but some of these are sub-$10 models like the Panasonic and JVC have helped raise the bar in the ultrabudget category, so I've started to expect a little more. These iLuvs don't sound bad, but they really are all about the bass, so if a bass-dominant headphone isn't your thing, this won't be either.

The cord terminates in a compact straight plug. Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion
The City Lights and these other other ultra-inexpensive headphones cost about the same as some of the fancier coffee concoctions at Starbucks, so it's hard to be too picky when reviewing them. However, while the City Lights are comfortable and attractive looking, and seem to be built reasonably well, they wouldn't be my first choice as a cheap headphone. But my tastes run toward better balanced, more accurate-sounding headphones, and these just push the bass a little too hard at the expense of clarity.

Of course, your tastes may be different, and if you like bass, you may want to give these guys a shot. The price certainly is right.

iLuv_iEP322BLK_City_Lights__35054228_03.jpg
6.4

iLuv City Lights in-ear headphones

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Sound 5Value 7
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