by Jeff Hahne
A couple of weeks ago, a pair of Wicked ear buds that I got last year and reviewed met their demise as the connection became frayed and they no longer worked.
As I sought out a replacement, I thought it might make sense to compare the high and low end of ear buds by checking out a $10 pair of iFrogz from Walmart and a $150 pair of Ultimate Ears 700.
First off, from a quality standpoint, there's definitely a difference. The iFrogz cord is flimsy and rubbery while Ultimate Ears offers a more secure connection and sleeker feel to its cord. The buds themselves are smaller with the Ultimate Ears and there are also more options when it comes to fit.
Ultimate Ears provides five different sizes of covers along with a protective case and some foam tips. Both pairs offer noise reduction, though a better fit with Ultimate Ears, thanks to the size options, gives more reduction than the iFrogz. The sound reduction is enough with the UE700 that I couldn't hear co-workers talking around me, even with music on a low volume.
But what about the sound?
Sound is the main reason I'm looking at ear buds in the first place. Aesthetics aside, if they don't sound good, it's not worth any amount of money.
I listened to an acoustic song, a rock song and a metal song with both sets of ear buds.
First up was the acoustic song — The Avett Brothers "Head Full of Doubt" — with the iFrogz. The sounds come through clearly and you can distinguish instruments. It's a bit muddied, but overall not bad. The sounds weren't crisp but they were generally clear. The same song with Ultimate Ears was a significant difference. The vocals were much cleaner coming through and when the music kicked in, notes were distinguished and much clearer than the iFrogz. The snare drum has snap and you could easily hear each tap of the cymbals.
Next up was a rock song — Sleigh Bells "Infinity Guitars." I started out with the Ultimate Ears. The tone was a bit tin-y with high treble coming through. Hand claps were clear, bass had a bit of thump to it and guitar chords rang true as did the jingle of the tambourine. The same song with the iFrogz had a bit more thump to the bass, but the sound was a bit cloudy. Instruments blend together and the guitar sounded more like blasts of static than true chords.
For the metal song, I chose Slipknot's "Psychosocial." With the iFrogz, again things started out a bit muddy though the music chugged along like you might expect at a concert. It all sounded ok until I switched to the Ultimate Ears. Again, instruments rang much clearer and you could almost pick out individual sounds in the background —Â clangs, drums and the vocals all sounded much crisper.
My verdict — iFrogz do the job if you want to hear music and aren't really worried about how it sounds. They sound "good enough." Once I tried the Ultimate Ears 700, I realized how much more depth and clarity the songs had. Notes rang true, individual drum hits could be heard going from one side to another... as if cleaning off a fog-covered pair of glasses. The price is a bit steep for the Ultimate Ears — they do have other levels that are cheaper and still better quality than the cheaper iFrogz. Sometimes you truly do get what you pay for and if you listen to as much music as I do, you want to hear the music in its truest form instead of beneath a muddied mask.UPDATE: I recently got a pair of iFrogz TimbrePRO (retailing for around $120) and wanted to compare to the two reviewed above. The sound quality is about the same as the $20 iFrogz and they are not nearly as clean as the Ultimate Ears. There was a dramatic difference between the iFrogz and Ultimate Ears on both accounts. There's no punch to the bass and nothing crisp in the treble on the Timbre Pro set. If you want some standard ear buds, stick with the cheap iFrogz over their expensive brothers. If you want crisp, clean audio, I'd drop the extra cash on the Ultimate Ears.