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House of Marley is a relatively new entrant in the world of headphones, arriving at the end of 2011 and one of a crop of headphones using a celebrity musician -- in this case Bob Marley. Our resident audiophiliac, Steve Guttenberg, liked what he heard of the flagship Stir It Up headphones, but the range begins fairly modestly with the Smile Jamaica earbud with remote, which retails for just $29.99.
While all earbuds look pretty much alike, it's fair to say that the Smile Jamaicas are unique -- even if just from a construction point of view. I can think of no other that uses wood in its earpieces that doesn't charge hundreds of dollars at the same time. The fact these headphones are around $30 is insane! The headphones use sapele, which is a sustainable African wood used also in the manufacture of guitars. The headphone is capped by an aluminum piece (red in the case of the Rasta version), which holds the driver and earbud in place. The headphones are marked with L/R, but this is easy to miss in anything but a well-lit room.
The headphone cable is covered with a fabric wrap in a four-color Jamaican scheme and terminates in one of the best strain relief plugs I have ever seen. The 3.5mm plug inserts at a 90-angle and is further reinforced so that there is no flex whatsoever. Having had many pairs of much more expensive headphones fail at the jack, this type of build quality is very welcome.
The headphones feature a microphone/single-button remote on the left earphone, and making calls and starting/stopping tracks was a breeze. Unlike the Stir It Up headphones, the cable is quite microphonic transmitting noise into your eardrums when moving against your face or clothing.
Apart from the headphone themselves, you'll find three pairs of green (!) silicone eartips in the box, which should ensure a tight fit for most ears and and a cloth carry satchel.
The sound the Smile Jamaicas make is undoubtedly rich with a full, sometimes overbearing amount of bass, depending on the style of music. While Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer," with its willowy bass lines, sounded full and peppy, a song with a deeper bass part like Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand" could become overwhelming -- particularly when using a portable player. However, music built around a dominating bass line -- dance, for example -- sounded great with plenty of definition and true depth.
Meanwhile, vocal details were present and alive, and the sound had a snap to it that eludes cheaper earbuds. While intimate music like jazz sounded great, more-symphonic music like Sigur Ros sounded a bit constrained.
If you're looking for a set of rugged headphones on a budget that sound decent with a wide selection of music and offer good isolation, then these House of Marleys are an excellent option.