The $49 Oculus Earphones aren't phenomenal

Don't care for the built-in headphones on your Oculus Rift headset? You can replace those on-ear cans with these Earphones -- for a price.

Sean Hollister Senior Editor / Reviews
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
Sean Hollister
3 min read

What you hear is almost as important as what you see. Without audio, the illusion can't hold.

That's why every Oculus Rift virtual reality headset comes with a pair of cushy, built-in headphones that you can adjust to fit practically every skull. They're good but not great, which is why Facebook's new Oculus Rift Earphones, shipping this December, might get you excited.

When the company introduced the $49 (£49 or roughly AU$80 in Australia) buds last week at the Oculus Connect developer conference, Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe claimed they sound as good or better than $900 earphones. "These sound as good as some of the highest-end earphones in the world," he said.

Unfortunately, that just isn't true. I've spent a few hours in VR with the Oculus Rift Earphones, and I honestly like my Oculus much better without them.

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The Oculus Rift Earphones, attached to an Oculus Rift headset.

Sean Hollister/CNET

Clear but shrill

The first time you try a great pair of earbuds (here are some of our favorites) the clarity can blow you away. You hear things in your favorite songs you've never heard before -- the edge of a whisper, individual background instruments, quiet notes you've always missed -- because the extra isolation means they don't need to compete (as much) with the sounds of the world around you.

That's the main reason the Oculus Rift Earphones might feel like a step up from the ones that came with the headset. Even compared to my typical go-to headphones, the beloved Bose QC25 noise-canceling on-ear cans, the earbuds sounded clearer. They definitely kept me better insulated from the world than the stock earcups.

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Installation is easy; just twist (with a coin, thumbnail, or the included tool) to remove the old earpieces and attach the new ones.

Sean Hollister/CNET

The Earphones have a decent amount of bass, too, enough for me to feel the sheer sound pressure in Dido's "Here With Me," as just one example. (Don't judge.)

(Plus, they're easy to install. Just a few twists with the included tool to remove each earpiece -- you can also use a coin, or even a thumbnail -- and a few more twists to put the new ones in place.)

But none of that mattered to me when it came to the highs, which were so shrill. I could barely stand electronic-heavy music, like Chvrches, when the edge of every note is like a little knife, one that got sharper the higher I raised the volume. I found a selection of pop that worked just fine, but even singer-songwriter fare like Vienna Teng was tough to listen to.

Playing Damaged Core, a game filled with screeching laser fire and robotic dialogue, I wanted to rip out the earbuds and play something else.

And the next time I picked up the headset, I noticed one of the freely dangling earbuds had decided to stick to the eyepieces of my Oculus Rift. (Apparently, the cables are just long enough.) Yuck.

That was it -- I removed the earbuds for good. It was just as easy as putting them on.

Hopefully, the next time Facebook decides to create a new set of earpieces, they'll be better in every way than the ones that come free in the box.

Full disclosure: My wife works for Facebook, owner of Oculus, as a business-to-business video coordinator.