When a mega electronics maker like Samsung decides to create a top-of-the-line mobile phone stereo headset, I take notice. Not only are the $129.99 Samsung Refined Sound EHS71 earphones pretty to look at, but they also came with a promise of outstanding audio quality and sound isolation. Unfortunately, though, Sammy promised a little too much. And in today's crowded field of smartphone headphones filled with tough competition from audio pros like Klipsch and Grado, talk is cheap and sound performance is king.
Whether building cutting-edge HDTVs or expanding its Galaxy line of smartphones, Samsung takes product design seriously. So it's no surprise that the Refined Sound EHS71 model reflects the company's eye for quality aesthetics. Compact and lightweight, the EHS71 consists of two cylindrical earbuds carved from what Samsung calls "aircraft" aluminum. I especially appreciate the textured, crosshatched stripe that runs around the middle of each silver-hued earbud. It provides a better grip, which is important on earphones this small.
The buds are capped by soft silicone ear cushions that are cone-shaped to better slide into your ear canal. Unfortunately, you don't get a lot of choice in the package, as Samsung only provides one extra cushion set with a slightly wider shape. It was a serious issue since I found that if I didn't jam the standard (narrower) earbuds firmly inside my ear canal, they had a tendency to slip out when I moved my head. The fatter tips stayed more securely in my ears, but I'd prefer more cushion sizes for the best individual fit.
One thoughtful touch is the thick, low-friction cord that's designed to resist knots and snags. Similar products, such as the Klipsch S4A earphones, lack this feature and instead sport wires with a sticky, rubbery coating that's more prone to tangles.
As a true mobile phone accessory, the EHS71 model features an in-line microphone for conducting voice communication. To accept an incoming call, just press the headset's Answer key. Hitting the key otherwise will command your handset to ring the number of your last call.
Also bundled with the Refined Sound EHS71 set is a black carrying case. Samsung says is made from leather, though I thought it was felt. Inside the case are the extra set of silicone ear cushions and a small shirt clip.
For their $129.99 sticker price, making the EHS71 earphones the most expensive in Samsung's line, I expected their audio quality to knock my socks off. Sadly, though, that wasn't the case. The Refined Sound EHS71 model does indeed provide a pleasing sonic experience as its name suggests, but it wasn't stellar. On my tests listening to tracks from a wide range of music genres, including jazz, dance, rock, and pop, the EHS71 earphones produced audio that was tinny, brash, and a touch too bright. Also, bass was in short supply while tracks swam in plenty of treble.
In fact, as far as audio performance goes, the Refined Sound EHS71 earbuds couldn't stand up to other lower-priced products such as the $99 Klipsch S4A and $99 V-Moda True Blood Revamp. Both competing sets provide richer, more balanced sound. I particularly liked how the Klipsch S4As handled my roster of test tracks, which it reproduced with clean, clear details and well-rounded audio. CNET headphones editor Justin Yu backed up my audio assessment.
In the EHS71 earphones' defense, though, I enjoyed their well-separated sonic field and moderately tight audio seal, which is a boon for blocking out ambient New York subway noise. Of course, more premium options from Shure and Ultimate Ears are the real masters of passive style noise cancellation and do a better job of audio isolation.
Calls I made to a landline phone using the Samsung EHS71 and an HTC One S (T-Mobile) were acceptable. Callers sounded loud and clear through the earbuds and the quality was virtually identical to that of my test phone's earpiece. People on the other end, however, reported that my voice had a hollow-tunnel, speakerphone-like character.
Conclusion: Needs refinement
Despite the Samsung Refined Sound EHS71 earphones' fancy name tag, their audio performance isn't as premium as it should be. That's especially true considering the set's $129.99 price. Other wired smartphone headphones offer a much better audio experience for less. The $99 Klipsch S4A earphones are an excellent example. For serious audiophiles, however, I suggest the $299.99 Grado In-Ear GR8 earphones, which produce a more natural sound. Of course the Refined Sound EHS71 model does have a modern minimalist style all its own that may be enough to entice fashionable shoppers.