I've said for years that EarPods suck. Sure, they’ve gotten a little better in recent years, but not enough to make me change my tune. I can’t believe that I’m about to share this, but some TechRadar editors actually choose to use them as their daily headphones.
Frankly, people who buy expensive smartphones deserve something better. For far too long, Apple has been hanging onto its all-white earbuds included with each iPhone as a bold symbol of excellence when they’re actually just a tired relic in dire need of improvement.
I’ve felt this way for a long time, as I’m sure many others have, too, but it wasn’t until I tried on the earbuds that come included with the Samsung Galaxy S8 that I knew something needed to be said.
So, I'll say it
Step it up, Apple. But, wait, I have more to say.
AKG, now owned by Samsung along with the rest of the Harman group of brands, makes quite the impressive debut alongside of the latest and greatest (for now) smartphones, the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus.
These wired earbuds are strung by a long, partially-braided cable which gives it a high-end look and feel. Complete with a grippy 3.5mm plug and inline remote and microphone, these are fully functional with, likely, the full range of Android devices. I’m currently using them on a Google Pixel XL with no issues to speak of.
You can’t say the same about the EarPods in terms of compatibility with previous iPhone models, given the iPhone 7’s lack of a headphone jack.
To combat the fraying of wires as these earbuds age, AKG has made the stems leading up to its speaker units thicker and longer than Apple’s. Another side benefit of this design move is that it’s super simple to tug them out of your ears with the extra girth around the wire. I don’t see cable rot ever being an issue here.
Moving up to its speaker units, the glossy plastic that provides the visual statement makes way for the grippy stuff that will help them actually stay in your ear. Samsung includes a few additional sets of ear tips to ensure a snug fit, which is standard practice for companies that take audio seriously.
They actually sound good
Sure, you can do better than these AKG earbuds. But, after spending a year of dispensable income on the Samsung Galaxy S8, they still feel like a treat. As mentioned above, these do just about everything one could desire from a modern set of headphones, like plug into a phone through a conventional port that allows simultaneous charging.
The sound quality is surprisingly good in these freebies. Bass response in a variety of music genres was as accurately punchy or subdued as the source material calls for, much closer to how it sounds through a set of high-quality over-ear headphones. Generally, the sound stage is about on-par with, if not a bit better than, the s, which I think are some of the finest in-ear headphones you can buy right now. (That’s without mentioning that they only cost $25.)
Our Global Mobile Editor, Gareth Beavis, also highly rates the bundled HTC 10 buds - another company that's doing in-box headphones right.
The best perks found about these AKG earbuds are the comfort and sound isolation. I actually feel like I’m wearing headphones that were made for me. Whether used during a quick vacuum of the apartment or for a full day at work, they do good to keep the music in and the world out.
Will this influence Apple?
It should. However, it’s more likely that, if Apple changes protocol at all, it will include AirPods in with the Phone 8. Not to drop my point that Apple needs to step up the audio quality of its EarPods, but if it can add its wireless headphones inside the box this year, that’d be a great value for people in Apple’s ecosystem.
Though, it seems like days where Apple made its own high-fidelity earbuds are long gone. Here’s our of them from way back in 2009. Since then, it has stuck with EarPods and most folks seem to be alright with it.
The fact that Apple has tried its hand at premium earbuds shows that quality audio isn’t outside of Apple’s purview. The W1 chip built inside of the Apple AirPods and proves that it has its focus set on improving the listening experience, as it has made waves with how easy it makes connecting its own products to one another.
Regardless, Apple needs to solve for the so-so audio (and fit) quality of its offering now more than ever, because its competition has caught up and then some.