(Editorial note: Try as I might to get useful images of these products for some reason it just wasn’t happening. Therefore you will see mostly stock images in this review but they ARE representative of the actual products.)
We’ve been looking at a lot of different earbud and headphone offerings lately. A number of them, like the YurBuds, the Monster Cable iSports, SkullCandy FIX earphones and the AblePlanet SI350 headphones are targeted toward use during active sports and exercise. We learned of two offerings from Burton Technology, Acoustibuds and Acoustigrips, that, while not audio products in and of themselves, seek to enhance the experience of using earbuds during activity. Are the Acoustibuds and Acoustigrips worth the price? Let’s take a look.
Earphones are very portable, that’s the best part about them. But when we use earphones, the very ear features that influence how sound is channeled into our ear canal get cut out. Anatomy text books have several names for these distinct ear features like “Auricular Tubercle” and “Intertragic Notch” but most get bypassed with earphones.
Aside from the size and quality of an earphone speaker, a poor uncontrolled fit is a primary cause of that shrill tinny sound and lack of bass many people experience and why earphones fall out so easily. Flat faced style earphones are well known like those that come standard with the Apple iPod or iPhone. These typically have a 14mm diameter speaker inside. The Apple brand can produce good quality sound and ample bass due to their large size. However, these and other flat faced style earphones have an uncontrolled fit to the ear. As a result they can often lack bass and sound cheap. They kind of hook in your ear notch (the intertragic notch). Some have additional hoops that go around the outside of your ear, but both methods randomly position the speaker independent of the path of your ear canal and provide no sound isolation.
Many people buy in-ear earphones with stem mounted round rubber ear tips to improve their experience. However, many in-ear style earphones typically use small speaker diameters in the 9 to 11 mm range. Bass output is limited just due to their size. A 10mm speaker has about half the surface area of a 14mm speaker. Quality speaker components do matter but are no great substitute for speaker area when it comes to bass. In-ear earphones typically use a tubular stem to mount a variety of rounded rubber tips. However, no matter what tip style is used, the stem can act like a pry bar so they torque out of your ear with the slightest tug on the wires.
Acoustibuds is a best way to improve audio delivery. They increase comfort and prevent earphones from falling out. They are available in three sizes and intended for flat faced earphones but don’t hook in your ear. Instead, they allow speaker placement in a direction aligned with the path of your ear canal. They hold position and provide great sound isolation. Sound is channeled through a twin cone shaped port. This port is ideal for high fidelity audio delivery because there is no abrupt area change. Bass is delivered far better from a 14mm speaker because of the controlled seal to your ear. Most people can listen at a reduced volume for all of these reasons.
Acoustibuds closely spaced fins don’t unhook from your ear and are far less prone to slip than rounded rubber tips. Tugs on wires don’t create torque like stem mounted tips. The center and fins flex and dissipate tugs so they stay in better whether you are just lounging around or doing serious exercise. All you need to do is use them per our guidelines and prepare to be far more satisfied!
At first I thought the Acoustibuds were rather silly. After using them for a while, however, I’m not laughing anymore. Once I found the right size for my ear and comfort I discovered that Apple’s stock earphones don’t have to suck quite as much as they do out of the box. The Acoustibuds tip fits inside the beginning of the ear canal and, by so doing, not only stays in better but lets the music feed most directly into your ear. As a result I found I didn’t have to listen to my music quite as loud. In addition, the “fins” on the Acoustibuds give a huge degree of sound isolation. Let’s be clear, this is a mixed bag since you don’t WANT that much sound isolation if you are, say, out running with earphones on.
These aren’t going to be for someone like Elana who hates having anything placed into her ear canal but for someone like me they make any pair of headphones that are compatible more comfortable and better sounding. They are particularly worth a look if you use less expensive earbuds that sound poor and don’t stay in well.
MSRP: 3 Size Pack $13.50, 2 Size Pack $9.99
What I Like: Make most buds stay put far better than one might imagine; Enhances the sound somewhat; Adds sound isolation
What Needs Improvement: You MUST use the right sized Acoustibuds for them to be comfortable
To my mind the more interesting of the two accessories was the ACOUSTIGRIP. When I first saw them I thought, “Those things are $5 each?” (They are currently $5 for two on the company site.) After using them I think they are still rather pricey at $2.50 each but I’ll be buying more anyway. Here’s why.
As the company explains,
Acoustigrip earphones clip for managing your wires: Acoustigrip is the best earphones and headphone solution for ‘micro-managing’ earphones wires. The “micro’ means no added bulk for your iPod, iPhone, Zune, Sony, Sennheiser and Philips earphones. This versatile micro-sized clip attaches to earphone wire(s) and then clips to your shirt to control slack and prevent tugging on your ears. There are two per package.
The Acoustigrip is effectively a multi-purpose “your earbud cables don’t have to make you crazy anymore” accessory. They can be used to grab each of the two separate cords going to each earbud and shorten the amount of “independent cable” so that they don’t flow around as much. They can grab the two separate cords AND the single cable that goes to the 3.5mm jack and be used to effectively shorten the cable. They can be used to grab the cord of your headphones and attach it to your shirt or hat thereby keeping the cable out of the way while you run. The possibilities are tremendous and I saw just how useful this tiny (and pricy) accessory can be just a few hours ago.
I’ve been running with the AblePlanet SI350s we reviewed last week consistently since they arrived. They sound great, are comfortable and, thank to the ear loop they stay in my ears no matter how much I move around. With the SI350s I have no need for the Acoustibuds. BUT! The cables flopping around was a royal pain. With the Acoustigrip I was able to grab each of the separate earbud cables at just the right point for them to be loose enough to be comfortable but short enough not to flop. I was then able to use the Acoustigrip to connect it to the collar of my running shirt right behind my neck. The result? The IS350s stayed put perfectly and, for the first time, the cord didn’t get in the way for even a second. I’m sold!
MSRP:2 Clip Pack $4.99
What I Like:Multiple uses that add a great degree of cable management
What Needs Improvement: $2.50 a piece for a tiny piece of plastic (but they work great…)