Every time I see someone listening to an iPod with its original white earphones, I can't help thinking, 'That's someone in serious need of an upgrade.' You're just not getting the full sound your iPod is capable of when using cheap headphones. And in a city where people judge you by your watch and your mobile phone, can you risk going out in public wearing anything but the best earphones available?
When you live in a place like Hong Kong and travel a lot, odds are you want to shut out peripheral noise. If that's the case then sound-isolating earphones, which fit into your ear canal, are the way to go.
I never thought I'd be comfortable shoving something so far into my ears but now I'm used to them, I can't go back to regular earphones.
The flagship product of Shure's Sound Isolating Earphone line has recently had its name changed from E500PTH. The tiny SE530PTH earphones (above right) have three drivers - one tweeter and two woofers - for excellent sound across the spectrum, including surprisingly warm bass. The supplied kit includes three sizes of flex and black foam sleeves as well as a triple-flange sleeve, so getting a comfortable fit is easy. There's also an extension cable and a zippered nylon carry case.
The 'PTH' (push to hear) option is a battery-powered add-on that features a microphone and clips onto your shirt or jacket. When someone is talking to you, you can push a button to hear what they are saying without having to remove the earphones. You'll have to pay a lot for these little buds, almost HK$3,500, but iLounge.com calls them 'the best in-canal earphone we've ever tested'.
Etymotic Research was one of the first firms to make sound-isolating earphones; the ER-4 and ER-6 series are legendary. Etymotic has released the ety8 In-The-Ear Bluetooth Wireless Earphones (below), an odd-looking accessory that may not be for everyone. Each earphone has a small, rectangular box that sits beside your ear. It contains the Bluetooth receiver and a rechargeable battery, the life of which is seven to 10 hours.
The package includes a leather carry case, an assortment of ear tips, cleaning tools and a USB charging cable. The basic set-up, which will work with a device that already has Bluetooth built in, costs US$199. If you're using an iPod, you'll need the package that includes the 8-Mate iPod Bluetooth adapter, which bumps up the price by US$100. Etymotic does not have a distributor in Hong Kong but its products are widely available on the Web.
Fit for a king
Ultimate Ears is a brand that gained its experience to make earphones for professional musicians. Top-of-the-line Ultimate Ears cost US$900 and are custom-made. The firm also has a consum-er line that includes the one-size-fits-all super.fi 5 Pro (HK$1,980) and the super.fi 5EB (HK$1,560). The 'EB' stands for extended bass. The super.fi 5 series uses separate high-frequency and low-frequency drivers, and includes audio filters and a passive crossover to give you professional-quality sound. Available in four colours, the package includes a Universal Fit Kit with eight different ear tips, as well as a carrying case and cleaning tools. Ultimate Ears super.fi 5 Pro and super.fi 5EB are available online at Apple's Hong Kong store.