Audiophiles have thumbed their noses at Bose for years because the company has convinced many consumers that it makes "the best" audio equipment that you should aspire to ownbut at a price that's affordable for the masses.
But with the IE2 earphones, an improvement upon Bose's original In-Ear Headphones (2.5 stars), the company taps its greatest strength: innovation. The eartips on the IE2 offer supreme, are-they-even-in-my-ear comfort coupled with booming bass and crisp highs. For $100 earphones they possess a unique design and hearty, exciting audio performance.
It should be noted the IE2 is also offered with iPhone/iPod controls (the MIE2i is $129.95) or with phone controls for other mobile devices (the MIE2 is also $129.95). We tested the least-expensive $99.95 version, without mobile controls.
If you've kept your eyes open at the gym or on the bus or train, you are likely familiar with the predecessor to the IE2, the aforementioned In-Ear headphones, which were originally called Tri-Ports. Both models flaunt a signature black-and-white, intertwined audio cable. The earpieces for the IE2 are oddly shaped. Underneath the StayHear eartips (Bose's new style of covers for the earphone, of which you get pairs in varying sizes), the IE2 resembles a hybrid earbud/earphone.
That is to say, the earbud portion sits in your ear the way iPod earbuds do (without entering the ear canal), but a part of the earbud forms a short in-ear piece that approaches your ear canal. Both the earbud and the earphone sections produce sound, with the earphone portion sending audio directly into your canals and the earbuds sending audio on a less direct path. The effect creates a nice sound field (more on that later). The IE2 comes with a black, zip-up protective pouch.
The StayHear eartips themselves are also peculiarfrom the side they look like the fat portion of the Nike swoosh logo. The top portions of the eartip press against the front, inner portion of your ear, helping to secure the fit. The design is similar to the excellent eartips on the Sennheiser CX 680 Sports ($119.95, 4 stars), which are ideal gym earphones. As our tests show, the secure fit of the IE2 has its ups and downsstaying in place is always a plus, but since the eartips can fit securely at a variety of angles, it's hard to get an accurate representation of the stereo mix. One slight twist will, while still offering you a secure fit, give you a slightly different frequency response in that ear.
It's clear, however, what Bose was after: These eartips are so comfortable, something feels wrong. It feels like they aren't in all the way, and so you fiddle with them, but they always feel the same: light, barely there, and completely secure. This fit feels as if the in-ear portion is not nearly as close to the ear canal opening as it needs to be to get quality audio response, so before you press play for the first time, you expect poor bass response, and for things not to sound right. And then: boom. They sound intense, and the genius of Bose is readily apparent.
This isn't a pair for critical, audiophile listening. It will, however, bring out the low end of a lot of mixes you would normally miss on under-$100 earphones. And despite our graph results, the pair doesn't seem nearly as unbalanced, in terms of bass to treble, as it appears on paper. This is likely due to the designmuch of the treble comes from the earbud portion, which our testing system is less likely to pick up on. Part of the genius of the IE2 is that it doesn't form a perfect seal in the canal, so you can still hear these frequencies coming from the earbud portion.
As our HEAD Acoustics ACQUA frequency response tests indicate, the IE2 packs a tremendous amount of bass. And yet, I have heard more unbalanced, bass-heavy earphones beforethe Radius Atomic Bass ($39.95, 3.5 stars) earphones come to mind. It's rare that I say this, but you may want to take our tests with a grain of salt this time. I don't believe there is a device out there designed to accurately measure the response of a hybrid earbud/earphone with a non-sealing in-ear eartip. Because treble is so directional and much of it comes from the IE2's earbud portion, which is aimed to the side of the ear canal, I think the graphs miss out on the overall balance of the pair. There is tremendous bass, but it is complimented by generous high frequency content, as well. Thus, our graphs are useful for reference, but for once, I'd implore you to put a little more stock in my description here.
Our linear frequency response graph, which shows how well-matched the responses of the left and right earphones are, needs no grain of salt. As mentioned earlier, the IE2 can securely fit in a variety of angles, making it difficult to get a truly accurate representation of the stereo image without fiddlinganother reason audiophiles should steer clear of this pair.
On a song like the Rolling Stones' "Rocks Off," the low-end response pleasantly accents the kick drum and the electric bass, but make no mistakeit's Keith Richards' guitar strumming and picking that shine here. On a song that has serious deep bass, like the Knife's "Silent Shout," the earphones pump out some serious low end on the electronic drum beat and never distort until pushed to absolute maximum volume, and even then do so only slightly. Because they only distort at an actually dangerous listening level, we'll let that one slideat comfortable moderate-to-loud levels, there isn't a trace of distortion on a song that has humbled many lesser contenders. The percussion and strings on "The Chairman Dances" by John Adams shine, and the low-end drum hits at the end of the philharmonic piece offer plenty of rumble without ruining the balance of the pristine recording.
For $100, it's unlikely that any audiophile will be truly thrilled with the earphone selection out there, but if flat response is more your thing, the Etymotic MC3 ($99 direct, 4 stars) boosts the bass by far less than Bose's IE2. At $100, however, the extremely comfortable IE2 is a bargainit offers dynamic audio performance and seems ideal for long listening sessions. One caveat: The earbud-hybrid style does mean some sound will escape. In other words, when you are rocking Chumbawumba on the subway, the guy next to you will probably hear it. You've been warned.
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