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Earbud headphones, long looked askance by audiophiles, have come a long way since the days when the sound emanating from them seemed channeled through a tin can. These days – and for not a great deal of money – you can count on an increasing number of earbuds styles and brands to faithfully reproduce your MP3 collection.
And though the principal advantages earbuds have always offered remains unchanged – a low profile and extreme portability – some models now incorporate significant enhancements to what was once a fairly uniform design. Many of these features particularly benefit those active in the outdoors, meaning earbuds like Outdoor Technology Bluetooth Tags, Yurbuds Ironman Series and the Wicked Helix are ideal companions for pursuits ranging from trail running to snowboarding.
Outdoor Technology Bluetooth Tags
It's difficult to imagine earbud headphones packing more features than the sleek OT Bluetooth Tags. Two earpieces resembling shiny red dog tags are connected by a short sturdy cord, and that is the extent of the hardware; these earbuds are entirely wireless.
Pairing the Tags to a Bluetooth-enabled device such as a smartphone or laptop is a quick process; simply press the multifunction button for a few seconds until the light alternates between blue and red and select the OT Tags once they appear on the list of Bluetooth devices. Connecting the OT Tags to a smartphone reveals the full extent of its capabilities: answering calls, redialing and voice dialing are all accomplished with a press of the multifunction button.
Of course, the OT Tags are designed for more than just carrying out a phone conversation; listening to music untethered is the obvious appeal. Thankfully the Outdoor Technology didn't skimp when it came to the Tags' audio output: from the deep pounding of low-end bass to crystalline highs, the sound is vibrant. (MSRP $79.95)
There's not a lot about the boldly styled Yurbuds Ironman Series that resembles earbuds of yore. Designed by endurance athletes craving a lasting fit, the water-resistant Yurbuds are nothing if not snug-fitting.
The tight hold is achieved as much by the ergonomic shape of the red clamshell-like individual Yurbuds as by the small "sound tunnel" that extends from each. Once placed in your ear, the Yurbuds can be rotated to line up the sound tunnel with your ear canal.
The result is a satisfyingly rich sound – especially given the price – with deeper than expected lows and clear highs, and a secure hold that is nigh impossible to dislodge. The Yurbuds can be paired with some Bluetooth devices. (MSRP $49.99)
The bicolor Wicked Helix employ a swirling wraparound design to keep the earbuds from jostling free during high-impact movement. From the base of the headphones a thin plastic arm curves around the uppermost of the ear, securing the earbuds firmly in place.
Though the Helix's design is highly effective at keeping the earbuds in your ear no matter how you're moving about, it can be tricky to keep the angled earbuds placed properly for optimum sound. If the earbuds rest in the sweet spot, the sound is full with an impressive range and the noise cancellation complete; if not, lows will be nearly nonexistent and background noise will seep in. (MSRP $14.99)
Steven Horak is a writer, editor and photographer with a particular interest in travel and wildlife. He was the lead editor of Ultimate Adventures: A Rough Guide to Adventure Travel and as an author he’s contributed to Rough Guides to the Czech Republic, Costa Rica and Canada. He’s also authored children’s books on animals, created ESL and EFL materials and has written for New York-based publications such as TimeOut New York and NYMag.com.
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