Saturday, July 13, 2013

Earbuds, Not that Easy

earbuds  plural of ear·bud
A very small headphone, worn inside the ear.

As a runner I have tough requirements for earbuds. Here is a short list:

  1. stay in the ear even through running, this is where advice cannot be taken, get a set with multiple ear size fitments pieces
  2. sound isolation, a good fit in the ear will allow you to keep the volume down, your ears will relax and you will hear more of your earbuds AND outside sounds
  3. microphone, pause/play, volume up/down, the type of functions that come on earbuds included in the purchase of a smart phone.  The less you need to touch your phone while running, the longer it will last.  When I commute run I’m always talking or texting. 
  4. must survive my sweat.  This is not a feature that you can test in the store.  Simply being waterproof isn’t enough
  5. must survive the wash cycle, leaving them in your clothes should not be a death sentence

The above list seems do’able.  If we can put a man on the moon then we should be able to achieve this loftier of goals.  I have tried a few earbuds in my 4 years of running.  Here are a few memorable ones… (spoiler alert) the search continues.

  1. Iphone’s earbuds: all but iPhone Gen 2 have a wire insulation that will survive sweat.  The earlier models would not stay in my ears, but the company Yurbuds had a solution for this in Figure 2 Yurbuds.  The newer generation iPhone earbuds fit into my ear canals nicely, they survived running without falling out.  The bad: with my chemistry, the buttons and or microphone with every set of these earbuds has failed.  100%.  They will survive the winter months pretty well when there is enough clothing separating my sweat from their buttons.  Usually they fail by engaging the pause/play (which when held down wakes up Siri).  Music will pause/play on its own, calls ended, Siri asking what I want.  It is infuriating!
Figure 1 the iphone earbuds, every generation

Figure 2 Yurbuds which fit early iPhone earbuds

  1. Shure EC(all), I have tried E3c, E5c, and others.  Much improved sound quality, good seal to block out sounds and let your ears relax.  The bad: They will not stay in the ears.  The wire insulation gets hard/soft with temperature and they will fall out of your ears. I recall many not having the buttons and the wire so their functionality is sub par as well.
Figure 3 Shure

  1. Bang & Olufsen A8.  Since I had poured hundred of sheckles on the Shures, I figured ‘why stop’.  A few hundred dollars later I got the classiest earbuds I could find.  They hang on the ear so they won’t fall out every thought they are heavy.  You will not be able to wear sunglasses with these, the over-ear part is too thick.  The foam around the speaker is not meant for sweaty surfaces, but it works.  These lasted over a year.  The bad: They failed possibly due to the way I wound up the wire and put them in my pockets.  One side went out intermittently, putting the wires in a bind and they worked for another few months. 

Figure 4 B&O A8

  1. Motorola Bluetooth Headset, Wires failed me, so I tried wireless.  I recall these were on a crazy sale, so I tried them.  That was dumb.  The bad:, they are a vice pinching the softest part of your body, (the pinna).  Instant headache! And they bounce like crazy.  Buy these for people you do not like.
Figure 5 Motorola S10

  1. Yurbuds Ironman, Yurbuds expanded to making a headset.  I bought the ones called ‘Ironman’.  The box told the story of their invention, an athlete could not find a headset that worked, they all failed or bounced around, etc.  It was telling MY story.  I wept with joy and knew my search was over.  I was wrong, they suck.  The bad: The over-ear part push your ears out very far.  I looked like Liv Tyler’s idiot brother who was cut out of the LOTR movies.  There were pause/play buttons and they stopped working after ONE run, the day I bought them.  I went back to the store and exchanged them as ‘defective’.  That set last ONE RUN!  I threw them out and chalked it up as me paying my stupid-tax. 
Figure 6 Yurbuds Ironman

  1. The Bowers and Wilkins C5, this is a high quality headset.  Its method of staying in one's ear is a outward spring tension pushing into the internal curvature of the ear.  It is a good solution and can be tweaked to handle running without any bouncing.  Good sound, stays in place.  The bad: buttons failed after months of use.  Not a bad life expectancy relativelty, but costs dollars per run.
Figure 7 B&W C5

  1. The Bose SEI2I, The ‘active’ version of their headset.  I left out the Sony/Seinheiser pieces of junk, but these are shaped the same.  They are the most comfy in-ear earbuds I have ever worn.  Interestingly, they come with a short cable, but an extension, so you choose between too short or too long. (?) They take a decent beating.  The FIRST set I had survived hundreds of consecutive runs (with and without sweat)!  The bad: Finally, a earbud that will stay in my ears, seem to survive my sweat, but I washed them once and the dryer’s heat melted the wire insulation.  I haven’t wash-tested every headset I have owned, but I have washed a few and MELTING?? Come on!!>?@#wtf!>!?1!1.  Needless to say, I was so mad at Bose (whose founder died today L ), that I bought another pair.  They lasted 6.00001months and now the buttons don’t work.  My ‘alien-blood’ sweat hath done it again.  I can pause/play, but the microphone and volume up/down are inoperable.  Two pairs, about 1.5years of service.
Figure 8 Bose Sei2i

Over $1000 spent, and the search continues