Shure i4c earbuds
Resisting the trend toward listening to tunes on your cell phone? Shure--the manufacturer of high-end earbuds that often cost more than the iPod itself--has a new set of earphones for music lovers who want their tunes on their iPods and their calls on their cell phones. The i4c headset features a set of pumped-up earbuds with dual connectors--one for your iPod and another for your cell--plus an in-line microphone and remote. The Shure i4c certainly wowed us with its sound quality, both with music and with cell calls, but we missed features such as alerts for incoming calls and the ability to accept or decline calls with the remote. Then there's the jaw-dropping $330 price tag.
The earbuds themselves look similar to Shure's other models, with light but reassuringly solid construction; we wish the left and right earbuds were more clearly marked, but that's just a quibble. On the cord for the right earbud is an in-line microphone, dubbed the VoicePort by Shure's marketing gurus, while farther down on the thicker main cord is an in-line control with a mute button, a volume control, an MP3-player/cell phone switch, and a belt clip. Finally, the cord splits in two again, with a 1/8-inch minijack for your iPod and a 2.5mm jack for a cell phone. All told, the cord is about 63 inches long.
Using the foam, form-fitting earplug attachments (nine different pairs are included), we eased the Shure i4c earbuds into our ear canals, attached the remote to our belt, and plugged our iPod Nano and our T-Mobile Sidekick II into the twin minijacks. The setup is inherently awkward--having two devices plugged into a single set of earbuds led to plenty of juggling and tangles. We were most comfortable with the Shure remote and the Sidekick clipped to our belt, as well as the Nano in our hand or our pocket.
That said, it's tough to complain about the sound. Listening to our tunes over the Shure i4cs' high-definition earbud drivers spoiled us rotten; the bass in our Photek tracks sounded huge, with practically no distortion even at ear-splitting levels, while we could make out every detail of Anne-Sophie Mutter's fiddle in Brahms's second violin concerto. The i4cs' call quality was equally impressive. We went to a crowded Manhattan movie theater lobby and dialed some friends; not only could they hear us loud and clear, but we heard our buddies perfectly, even with all the crowd noise.
There's an important catch, however. While the Shure i4cs' remote will switch the sound input and change the volume, it won't accept or decline phone calls. By the same token, the headset can't alert you to incoming phone calls; if you're rocking out to your iPod when a call comes in, you better hope your cell is set to vibrate mode. We should also note that in our tests, we heard only mono sound from the cell phone input, even from cell phones with stereo minijack outputs. Sure, it's a moot point if you're using your iPod for music but still disappointing.