iLuv ReF Deep Base On-Ear Headphones Review

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Billy Crystal famously said “It’s better to look good than to feel good”, and it was a terrific SNL bit that still makes me smile. Of course the statement is simply wrong. Looks are important, but they are secondary to feeling and functioning well. As my grandmother famously NEVER said, “So long as you have your health, everything will be fine.” (She never said it because she was far too negative a person to have made such a positive comment. That, however is an entirely different story.) This also applies to such items as headphones, which have now become fashion statements with each company trying to make their offering as stylish and attention-grabbing as possible. No one, however, would argue that it is “Better to look good than to sound good.” Headphones that are stylish but sound crappy simply won’t do.

With the ReF Deep Base On-Ear Headphone line, iLuv has joined the “headphones as fashion” movement. But at $129.99 numerous questions emerge. Questions like, “Do they actually look like $130 headphones?”, “How do they sound?” and “Are they worth the price of admission?”

Let’s take a look.

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From iLuv:

The ReF™ headphones were specifically designed to fulfill the growing consumer demand for accessories that look as good as they perform. These headphones meet that demand by combining fashionable elements and premium technology to produce a product that wins wholehearted approval from fashionistas and techies alike. Plug these headphones into your iPad, iPhone, or iPod to enjoy hands-free conversation or play your favorite track and immerse yourself in the rich, deep bass and precise treble.

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The Ref headphones feature:

A canvas exterior with contrast stitching that suits your urban lifestyle

A titanium diaphragm for mega-bass and precise treble

Premium ear cups made of Korean protein leather

In-line remote with Play/Pause, Volume, and Track Change controls

A built-in mic with hands-free

And are collapsible earphones for ultra-portability

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The headphones fold up for easy portability. Unfortunately, when they fold the metal frames that connect the ear cups to the headband still stick out. This makes them a bit less portable than they would otherwise be. Even when the ear cups are pushed in as far as possible the frames stick out a bit.

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When unfolded the headphones have a unique look that stands out from a crowded field.

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Cloth with contrasting seams pop, while the iLuv name actually adds to the interest. The headphones are stylized enough that I suspect you will either love or hate the design; I really like the way they look.

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Come on, admit it, these have a different look that is understated but stands out, don’t you think? And to round out the appearance of the headphones, you’ll find the thick, tangle free cable to match perfectly. The right angle of the 3.5mm jack is also a nice detail.

It is also worth noting that the cable does NOT transfer a crackling sound to the ear cups when you move around, as some of the other earphones I’ve reviewed did.

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And because this version of the ReF headphones is designed to work with Apple’s devices, there is a three button, in-line controller that also includes a microphone. I tested the microphone and found it to fall somewhere between functional and good. When I moved it closer to my mouth the recordings were far clearer than when it simply hung naturally from the ear cup. These won’t win any awards for their recording prowess, but they certainly are good enough for casual use.

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So in the appearance department, I think the iLuv ReF on-ear headphones are terrific; and there’s more good news. I’ve used them extensively and found them to not only be comfortable during extended periods of use, but I also have been impressed by the sound they put out. It is full, has decent base and the overall experience of listening to music or watching a movie while wearing them is fantastic.

In addition, the soft ear cups mold to your ears and create a seal that is surprisingly effective in blocking out surrounding sound. That not only means you get to enjoy quiet but it also means you don’t need to crank up the volume to hear the music. Your ears will thank you in the future.


Speaker driver: Supra aural, sealed; deep bass

Titanium speaker

Diameter: 40mm

Magnet: NdFeB

Frequency response: 20 Hz-20 KHz

Impedance: 32ohm

Maximum input: 200mW

Sensitivity: 114dB

Plug: 3.5mm/Gold-plated ‘L’

Cord: Braided fabric 1.2 meter cord

I didn’t go into this review expecting to be all that impressed. I mean, I like iLuv’s products, but they certainly aren’t known for high-end audio, especially not in the headphone department. The ReF headphones are a departure for the company, and they come in at an MSRP that puts them in the same ballpark as some of the big names in high-end headphones. Much to my surprise, they more than held their own.

These headphones look good, they sound good, and they are a pleasure to wear. In fact the only issue I have with the ReF headphones is the lack of a carrying case. How can iLuv make a point of making the ReF headphones foldable for “ultra-portability” but not include a way to carry and protect them is beyond me. It is a misstep in an otherwise impressive foray into the land of fashionable and high-quality audio headphones. You can learn more and order yours.

MSRP: $129.99

What I Like: Look good; Sound good; Feel good (as in, they are comfortable); In-line microphone and controller; Tangle-free cord; Cool unusual look

What Needs Improvement: No carrying case; When folded, the metal frames that connect the ear cups to the headband still stick out

Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample

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About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.