While many of us rely more on text messaging, regular old voice calls are still important. At the same time, we want to have a great experience when listening to music on the go too. Approaching both of these areas in our lives are the E461-BM earphones from the fine folks at Arctic Sound. This certainly isn't their first time to this dance.
Features at a Glance
Not all earphones are made alike, even though they may look mostly the same. The design style of the newer E461-BM earphones is a little different from the older E361-BM and E351-WM stereo headsets that I reviewed last year, but the minor cosmetic changes aren't going to make or break your deal either way.
Remember that the Arctic Sound E-461-BM earphones are meant to serve two purposes: music and phone calls. As such, Arctic is promising "full range sound quality" to go along with the in-line control and microphone. They use neodymium magnet drivers for that full range and the in-line control can be used both for answering calls and advancing the audio track.
Other key features include the stainless steel mesh filter (protecting the driver from ear wax and debris) and a hardened aluminum capsule for "higher clarity and improved linearity." The frequency response is 17Hz - 26KHz, the sensitivity is rated at 96 dB/mW, and the impedance rated at 12 ohm. The product net weight is 14 grams. This set doesn't get the official "Made for iPhone" badge, but the package does say that it is "Compatible with iPad/iPhone/iTouch."
What's in the Box?
If you've ever purchased another set of earphones from Arctic Sound in the past, then you'll be pretty familiar with the package contents of this product too. If you're coming from another company, you'll be somewhat pleasantly surprised with the "bonuses" included.
In addition to the earphones themselves, you get a splitter cable for use with your PC (the single 3.5mm plug on the earphones works great for phones, but the splitter gives you separate 3.5mm plugs for the headphone and microphone portions), three pairs of replacement silicone caps in different sizes, a cord-wrapping tool, a carrying case, and the requisite user manual. The carrying case ("hand luggage") and splitter cable are particularly useful.
Talking on the Phone
To be fair, the in-line microphone is probably closer to my mouth than the mic built into one of the earpieces on the stereo Bluetooth unit, but it's good to see that this headset is more than suitable for use while driving (if local laws allow), working, or power walking down Wall Street. Audio is loud and clear for both parties involved.
The in-line control only has the one button, so it's easy enough to understand how to pick up and hang up on your phone calls. I still prefer a wireless solution for handsfree calling myself, as the cables can sometimes get in the way, but the audio quality and clarity using this headset was just fine.
Audio Quality with Music
Unfortunately, I found the audio quality for the music to be a different story. While Arctic Sound claims that the E461-BM is "designed to provide superior clarity and rich, dynamic" sound, it didn't really deliver. The low end didn't hit hard enough and the high end was harsh on the ears. This is after going through the usual "burn in" process that I take with all headphones.
To test the audio, I listened to a range of musical selections on my iPod, on my Galaxy S, and on my PC. In all circumstances, the low and midrange felt a little underpowered, while the treble and higher notes felt quite sharp. This was particularly pronounced with rock songs.
For my part and at this price point, something like the Radius Atomic Bass may be more appropriate, thanks to its much deeper bass and fuller sound profile.
MEGATechie Dynamically Rich or MEGATechie Flatly Poor?
You can't really expect the world at $49.95. I'm happy to see that Arctic includes all the accessories you need when you purchase the E461-BM earphones, and I'm also happy that its use as a handsfree headset for voice calls is superb. The mic picks up loud and clear and the earpiece makes the conversation a breeze.
It's too bad that the audio profile for music is comparatively sharp and harsh. That's a shame, since other similar earphones from Arctic Sound weren't quite like that. For this reason, I have a hard time recommending this product for music listening, but I look forward to seeing how Arctic handles things with future iterations.