Given the popularity of the iPhone, it's no wonder we're seeing more and more earphones with integrated mics and controls for the device. In the same price range as Apple's own In-Ear headphones ($79), you have the Zagg Z.buds, a rugged set that offers an extra thick cloth-coated cable and a wider array of eartips. While these earphones present a nice balance of comfort, durability, and sound quality, though the latter is not on par with Klipsch's comparably priced Image S4.
The Zagg Z.buds utilitarian look might not be for everyone, though the ability to choose from four color options (black, red, pink, or yellow) should broaden the appeal somewhat. The plastic earpieces are attached to an extra long, cloth-covered Y-cable that doesn't come to connect until nearly 30 inches down. Here, Zagg includes three detached ball sliders that can be used to prevent tangles and adjust the span of the Y. The cord terminates another 26 inches down in a reinforced, silver-plated L-plug.
Although the earpieces of the Z.buds are quite compact and reasonably comfortable, we found that they didn't fit that securely in the long run. Even with the foam tips, the 'buds tended to slip out of the ears--in fact, the tips themselves would slip a bit off the base arm. On the plus side, Zagg includes plenty of sleeves to choose from: two pairs of foam, three standard silicone sets, and a triple-flanged style. These should help most users achieve a solid seal with the ear and take advantage of the earbuds' passive-sound-isolation ability.
In addition to the various eartips, Zagg includes a soft carrying pouch for the Z.buds. And of course we can't forget the rather bulky plastic module attached to the left cable. It contains a volume knob as well as a mic and a single, clickable button for controlling the iPhone or iPod. Pressing this once will answer or hang up calls, twice skips to the next song, and three times goes back a track.
During testing, the Z.buds fared well in terms of sound quality, though certain tracks shine much more than others, notably hip-hop, pop, dance, and electronica. Some rock and funk has a tendency to sound muddy. These earphones are definitely heavy on the bass, which is super deep and can overpower at times. Some listeners will certainly appreciate this effect, however. While there is a suitable amount of detail on the high end, these 'phones aren't as crisp or sparkly as the aforementioned Image S4s. Midrange warmth is super, though, and we got a definite sense of being enveloped by both the female and male vocals. In the final analysis, these are a good choice for bass-addicted iPod owners who are fine with not having a bright overall response.