Beautifully designed and packaged, but ear buds cannot equal good over-the-ear headphones.
ROAM Ropes Wireless Earphones & Amp
List: $199; $150 at Amazon
Ropes are an attempt to equal the impact on the audio world of the Beats headphones in 2008. They are high-style earbuds with a built-in DAC (50 MIPS with 24-bit stereo), Bluetooth unit and a free companion EQ App that allows setting the EQ exactly as you want. True, you can now buy Bluetooth earbuds (and the Ropes uses the latest advanced version of Bluetooth: 4.1) with no cable or separate amp at all, so a set with a big “pendent” (they call it the Audio Engine) seems a bit going backwards. In a way, they have “cut the cord” but only some of the cord – they are not wireless. The components are powered by an inbuilt lithium-polymer battery, which charges in about 15 minutes for an hour of playback. You won’t be able to listen to the earbuds while charging at your computer, because the cable is very short.
The unit is beautifully packaged and designed, and with the red cables that came with my black unit could be quite a fashion statement. They seem to be even outdoing Apple in the packaging department. They fit almost like a necklace and the pendent can be on your front or back. It is also available in white, orange and blue. There are four various-sized eartips inside so that you have the best seal in your ears and the earbuds don’t fall out as you exercise or move. This is certainly a unique design, and the reviewers in general really love it, though some find it might not appeal to everyone. Some have pointed out that they sound better than more expensive earbud competitors, including Bose.
The earbuds have several parts to them: Behind the nozzle, onto which fits the various eartips, are the acoustic manifold and low-mass armature transducer for the midrange and high frequencies, followed by the 10mm dynamic transducer for the bass and lower midrange. An earpiece capsule completes the assembly. There is also a packet of SureFit Clips in four “egonomically-optimized” sizes, which I guess are designed to better hold the earbuds in the ears (don’t know since I didn’t try them).
The problem is that no earbuds (or earphones as they archically refer to them) can possibly equal the sound one gets from a normal pair of over-the-ears headphones. Millions of people around the world are ruining their hearing by using the worthless white earbuds that come with so many Apple audio products. I haven’t personally heard any earbuds that even come close to the sound of the cheapest decent headphones, the Grado SR-80es (which replaced the SR-85s I have). The latest version of Bluetooth (4.1) is a big improvement over the original, but it still is a wireless degradation of standard wired CD quality and will never be better than that. (Note to all you fans of Bluetooth loudspeakers.) The only in-ear phones that work decently (as far as a bass seal) are the Etymotic type, which fit far into the ear canal. And work best if you have a special form made just for you by an audiologist. I wore some on a plane once and as a result had a clicking sound in my ears for a week after.
I tried the DAC and amp with some quality headphones and frankly could hear no improvement in the sonics over plugging in directly into my Sony cassette or digital Walkman player and using their supposedly lesser headphone amps. There is also a cute little carry case for them.
This is all part of the current Convenience over Good Sound that has changed audio totally – never mind hi-res downloads and the return of vinyl, that’s only a very small part of the audio picture. If there is a choice, it is nearly always toward something that requires less effort and takes up less space, such as the wireless craze. Never mind that wiring always is more reliable and sounds better than wireless – everything is going wireless and (with the Internet of Everything) soon one appliance will conflict with another and everything will go haywire. This is only a personal opinion, but I’m sticking with it.