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iPod Accessory Reviews: headphones

XtremeMac FS1 High Definition Earbuds

Editor's rating (1-5):
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Reviewed Feb., 2006 by Jacob Spindel

Most earbud reviews compare the features and sound quality of the buds to other, comparable products. Well, this is not that kind of review. To be perfectly honest, the most expensive pair of earbuds I have ever owned previously were Apple's own, which I liked, but they are not really high-end earbuds like these. Instead, I will present a look at premium, professional-level earbuds from the perspective of someone who has never owned a "comparable product."

XtremeMac FS1 earbud

 

Stick it WHERE!?

When I first tried to use the earbuds, they didn't sound especially good, but I hadn't yet paid much attention to the various oddly shaped objects included in the box. Thus, I read the manual and realized that you need to choose a pair of covers that you are comfortable with and use it to replace the default cover for each earbud (unless you prefer the default cover, of course). Then you push the earbud all the way into your ear canal, rather than just keeping it at the outside of your ear like most cheaper models.

Suddenly, I flashed back to years' worth of visions of doctors and parents telling me I shouldn't shove things that far into my ear. Having mostly obeyed them, I was admittedly quite nervous about this. However, it wasn't hard to find a cover that was a good fit for me, and when I pushed it "all the way in," I discovered the true potential of these earbuds to generate fantastic sound.

The bass was rich, the vocals were crisp and clear, and I heard nuances in my music that I had never noticed before. Although the buds don't have explicit "L" or "R" labels, it is pretty simple to tell them apart just from their shape. Here's a rundown of how it fared with specific types of audio:

A cappella/Vocal: Usually when people apply the term "high resolution" to something that doesn't actually have a resolution, such as perceived audio quality, I automatically assume it belongs in the "meaningless buzzword" category. However, "high resolution" actually describes my experiences with vocal music using these earbuds. What I mean by this is that I notice a higher level of detail than ever before, and I feel like I can appreciate every note from every singer, almost as if I were suddenly seeing a photograph in a much higher resolution than what I was accustomed to and noticing details that had previously been invisible.

Podcast/Voice: Podcasts seemed to exhibit a slightly lower-fidelity or "hollow" sound with these earbuds—and I think that's a good thing. The reason is that, even though most podcasts really are lower fidelity than most music, on many audio devices, the difference just wasn't very noticeable to me. Using these earbuds made me realize what I was missing when music is reduced to about the same quality level as a podcast by cheap earbuds.

Of course, I still like podcasts, and although they are not on par with music-level quality, they sound about as good with these earbuds as they possibly can, anywhere.

Rock/Pop: Nowadays, studio-produced rock and pop has been overdubbed and enhanced in many ways, probably with cheap earbuds in mind. So you may be used to a pretty "full" sound already in modern, popular music, but even with those tracks, they can only get better by using the XtremeMac FS1 earbuds. I have already had multiple instances where I listened to a track that I had thought had some "whitespace" at the beginning, end, or elsewhere, but discovered with these earbuds that there was actually a small amount of audio that I never noticed before.

 

 

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Hip-Hop, Rap, R&B: These earbuds pound out strong bass tones, with the same level of detail as with other music. In fact, the backup music in rap music becomes much more noticeable than with cheaper earbuds, where it tends to just fade into the background and place all focus on the rapper's voice. The enhanced backgrounds and baselines may cause rappers to seem a little less "emphasized" than you're used to, but I found that it was worth it just to be able to hear a better "mix" of what the song was really designed to sound like.

The earbuds also have the capacity to reach the extreme volume levels some people seem to insist on, especially with this type of music. Personally, I think it is important to take care of your hearing and respect those around you by keeping the volume at a reasonable level, but if you must, these earbuds will indeed enable you to blast your brains out while you try to figure out just who the real Slim Shady is.

Country: Country music sounds about as bad on these earbuds as it does on any other device . Sorry, as you might have guessed, I'm not a country fan.

case

The included case

XtremeMac FS1

The earbuds and included covers and etc.

 

Shh! There's a lot of noise pollution in today's world—traffic, other people talking, your co-workers, whatever. These are not true noise-cancelling earphones, which doesn't bother me because they would require a battery if they were. However, they do have a "noise reduction" feature that basically means that, probably because of their deep and tight fit in your ear canal, they block out ambient noise far more than cheap earbuds do. I found this to be the best of both worlds, providing a substantial decrease in background noise without requiring additional batteries or other inconvenient add-ons. Wearing the earbuds for longer periods sometimes feels a bit stranger than earbuds that don't enter your ear canal, but for the most part they are still very comfortable and usable.

These Buds Are For You

There is really only one thing not to like about these earbuds: price. At $149.95, they are actually a great value compared to other high-end earbuds with similar capabilities. Still, the fact is that many people just wouldn't spend 150 bucks on any pair of earbuds, even if they had a built-in toaster and automatic dog-walker.

However, if you can justify the cost, you just can't go wrong with the XtremeMac FS1 High-Definiton earbuds. These buds are suitable even for professionals, and for non-professionals, you will appreciate your music more than ever before. If you're like me, you may feel like you've been waiting forever for the pair of earbuds that was "just right." For me, the wait is over.

Pros: Fantastic audio quality; effective noise reduction; compatible with standard devices without requiring extra gizmos.

Cons: Expensive, though not unreasonable considering the quality.

Price: $149.95, available in black or white

Web Site: www.XtremeMac.com

Specs:

Compatibility: Standard 3.5mm mini jack. Does not require any batteries or add-ons. Works with all iPods and most other audio devices. Cable length: 43.3 inches.

Audio: Future Sonics MG5 Proprietary Miniature Dynamic10mm Transducer.
Input sensitivity: +/-112dB @ 30Hz/1mW.
Noise Isolation: +/-25dB (using foam sleeves).
Impedance: 32 ohms.
Frequency Response: 20Hz-20KHz

 

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