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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

AVB Retractable Earphone Review


Well, here we are. It's a week after Thanksgiving. People are lining up to buy as much crap as they can for their friends and family members. It's my favorite time of year. I get to see how lame the things I've bought for other people are as well as the things they've bought me. It's a smorgasbord of suck and I'm ready to eat it up.

Like many people, I did some traveling over Thanksgiving. I flew 2000 miles to see my mom in Phoenix Arizona. Even with a direct flight, it's about 4 hours spent crammed into a severely undersized airplane seat. Although I get nearly orgasmic while carefully reading every page of the Skymall catalog, I can only maintain Nirvana for an hour or two before the effects wear off and I need to find some other pastime to occupy my brain. As such, I dumped a bunch of horrific podcasts to my iPod in anticipation of the flight.

Unfortunately for me, it was just hours before my flight when I realized I had no clue where my earbuds were. I primarily use my iPod with an FM transmitter in my car. Because I have to unplug the earbuds in order to plug in the transmitter, I regularly lose my earbuds. Well, I obviously had to replace them but time was not on my side. I could go to the nearest Radio Shack or Walmart and pick up any old set of headphones but that wouldn't work. I couldn't be seen without the white earbuds! People would think I was one of the remaining 2 people in this country that don't own an iPod. That would mean I'd either be mistaken for Bill Gates or my grandmother - neither of which seemed appealing. Nope, I had to get to a store that sold iPods and iPod accessories fast.

I rushed off to a MicroCenter around the corner from my house with just minutes to spare before I needed to leave for the airport. Of course, I would have had plenty of time if one didn't have to arrive at the airport 14.6 hours early in order to make it through meaningless security procedures. The next time they ask me to take off my shoes, I'm just going to strip completely naked in the middle of the airport, and lie down on the x-ray conveyer.

Anyhow, where was I? I quickly rushed to the Macintosh section and was disappointed to discover that they were out of apple earbuds. I was even more dismayed to find that the only pair of earbuds they had were AVB Retractable Earbuds. Just what I need... a pair of headphones with moving parts to break. Annoyed as I was, what's a guy supposed to do? I had a plane to catch and it was either buy these for $14.99 or pay $80 for an even crappier pair at the airport news stand.

Not having much of I choice, I bought:

AVB Retractable Earphone
(www.avbusa.com)

Sound Quality:
You, the reader, should be happy to know that I'm not going to review these things based on sound quality at all. People who review earbuds based on sound quality are pricks. First off, to a truly discerning listener, all earbuds sound worse than a nice pair of full-sized headphones or studio monitors. I don't care if they're $3 generic earbuds or $300 in-ear phones (yes these exist and some jerk buys them). Secondly, they're meant to be used with portable audio devices. Nowadays, that means an iPod or a pathetic iPod knock off. If you want pristine sound quality, you're not going to get it out of a lossy AAC or MP3 file anyhow. Get over it. It sounds good enough to listen to and you can take your whole library with you wherever you go - and that's exactly what it's designed to do.

Retractable Cord:
The cord winds up into the plastic enclosure that lives halfway along the length of the cord. To extend the cord, you simply pull it out. To retract it, you pull it out a little further and it retracts itself - sort of like a window blind. Being able to retract the cord is a nice feature. When storing the phones in your pocket or bag, you won't have to untangle a spaghetti mess every time you want to listen to something. However, it's not without problems. The biggest problem I've discovered with it so far is that there is no way to lock the mechanism and prevent it from retracting. What this means is that every now and again, you'll turn the wrong way or accidentally pull on the cord and it will retract, removing the earbuds from your ears. It doesn't happen to me very often but I'm a pretty sedimentary listener. I think this would happen more often when using the headphones during running or otherwise exercising. Surprisingly, I haven't had any problems with the cord tangling up. I thought for sure it would be a tangle nightmare when I first saw it. It's not.

Comfort/Fit:
Apparently nobody on the design team for these things ever put them into their ears before they went into mass production. The earpieces don't have the foam covers that one usually sees on earbuds. Without foam covers over the ends, they're extremely uncomfortable to wear for extended periods of time. In addition, the smooth rubbery surface surrounding the earphones is pretty slick. As such, they fall out of my ears every few minutes. Finally, my ears are really waxy. They're, crazy, disgusting, mutant ears. I could start a candle farm. Without any sort of cover, these things are going to be a nasty mess eventually. I'm hoping that a pair of foam replacement covers for another set of earbuds will fit but I haven't tried a pair yet.

Clip:
One thing that confused me when I bought these phones was the little roach clip near the plug. I tried clipping it to my clothing, the cord, my nipples - nothing made sense. Finally, on a whim, I clipped it to leather case that I keep my iPod in. With the headphones clipped to my iPod case, I can retract the cord and it all stays together - even if the plug is removed from the iPod. As such, I can use my FM transmitter without losing my headphones. This, when combined with the retractable cord is what keeps me from tossing these things in the garbage (or losing them the next time I get in my car).

Summary:
They're uncomfortable. They fall out of my ears when they aren't ripped out by accidentally retracting the cord. I expect the retraction mechanism will break long before the phones would have failed otherwise. However, the fact that they stay neatly connected to my iPod case and won't get lost means I'm stuck with them for quite some time.

In the end, they were much less crappy than I originally would have guessed. On the crap scale, I give them 2/4 steaming piles (0 being best, 4 being worst - rating system to be explained in a future post)

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