Zagg has released a new set of audio earbuds for use with the iPhone (and other phones players with limitations) called the Z.buds. The Z.buds aim to offer superior sound, advanced design, and high style in an affordable package. Do they deliver?
I’ve had a set of the new Zagg Z.buds for a couple of weeks now and have been putting them through the paces with my iPhone 3G. In this review, I’ll provide some of my thoughts on using the Z.buds, mainly for audio listening with an occasional phone call thrown-in.
If you’re not one for details and just want to know my conclusion, that would be: The Z.buds sound fantastic and I highly recommend them especially if you use them mainly for music.
If you’re wanting a bit more detail than the quick conclusion, read-on…
The Z.buds arrive in a quasi-pyramid cardboard box. Inside the box, you’ll find one of those clamshell plastic enclosures we all hate — you know the kind that takes a huge pair of scissors and safety gloves to open? However, the benefit of such packaging is that you know for sure if your Z.buds are pristine and never-used, which is always good when you’re sticking something in your ears.
What’s In the Box:
- The Z.buds earbuds
- Several extra earbud tips
- Cloth carrying pouch
There are no instructions provided, which sounds funny to say about a set of earbuds, but these are pretty complicated as far as buds go, so it might have been nice to include a folded piece of paper describing the various aspects of the product. You can access the Zagg product page on their website to see labeled photos, but as a first-time user, I must admit I wondered what certain things (like the button loop) were for.
One thing that really stands-out about the Z.buds is the build quality. The earbud bodies are actually made of metal, a substance of increasing rarity in today’s consumer goods market. Each bud has a small unobtrusive Zagg logo on the side.
Leaving the earbuds, you have a good strain-releif which leads into the wire. All wires are covered with a braided sheath, probably made of Nylon. This sheath helps keep the wires from becoming tangled, in addition to providing a very nice, high quality appearance and feel. There are two versions of the Z.buds, one which has red sheathing and one with black, which is what I’m reviewing.
On one bud’s wire is the usual microphone/button pod. This pod is not cheap and “clamped-on” looking like the headphones Apple includes with the iPhone. This pod is chrome and black with a distinct button you press to answer calls, pause music, or jump tracks. The button is somewhat inlaid on one side of the pod, so it shouldn’t receive erroneous presses from your clothing.
Moving down the cord, you have three silver beads that can be slid up and down the cord to help with cable management. These beads are what allows the questionably named “Hangin’ Tight” feature of the Z.buds. You can also use the beads to configure the two earphone cords to have shorter or longer separation.
Next is a little metal cylinder that both holds the button loop and also is the point where the two earphone wires emerge from the single wire going to the iPhone/player. Both the incoming wire and the headphone wires have good strain relief as well. The button loop is removable should you not need it.
The last stop on the wire before the 3.5mm plug is the volume control. This is something that’s not very common in my experience and is a really nice feature. You can adjust the volume easily without having to fish your iPhone/player out of your zipped pocket or backpack. Traditionally, these in-line volume controls have problems with noise over the long-term, so only time will tell if Zagg chose a good potentiometer in the volume pod or not, but in the first couple of weeks, I haven’t had any problems.
Comfort During Use:
The Z.buds ship with a soft memory-foam type tip pre-installed. If you’ve ever used those foam earplugs that you roll between your fingers and they expand in your ears, you’ll find similarity with the default tips. The buds insert comfortably into your ear and form a mostly sound-tight seal thanks to the soft foam. The fit is good enough that you don’t feel like they buds are going to get pulled-out from normal head movement.
If you use the “hangin’ tight” configuration, where the cord is hung on your neck and the earbuds don’t have any weight on them, it’s very comfortable. The issue I have with this configuration is that the microphone/button pod is up in a location where your coat collar or other clothing might hit the microphone, thus causing noise when talking on the phone.
Should you choose to forgo the “hangin’ tight” (really – who chose that name?) setup, you can hang the cord from the earbuds like a normal set. Because the buds fit snugly into your ears, I haven’t really experienced any problems with them falling-out. The various goodies on the Z.buds like the volume control, sheathing, and metal wire-splitter make the wire a bit heavier than a normal set of buds, so perhaps during vigorous movements you may have issues with the buds popping out, but I didn’t. Also, using the button loop helps eliminate some of the cord weight.
The Zagg Z.buds are a treat to listen to – period. The very first time I used them to listen to a bass-heavy song, I heard frequencies I haven’t heard so clearly since I had a mega-buck car stereo (yeah, the kind that goes “boom”)! I thought to myself, “Hmm… I wonder if I’m imagining this – surely the Apple buds aren’t that bad.” So, I ran and grabbed the Apple included buds to listen to the same song and, well, I wasn’t imagining that they sounded awful compared to the Z.buds.
Musically, I like anything except country. Thus, I’ve tested the Z.buds with many genres of music – far too many to mention here. But I can list a few examples:
Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon and Delicate Sound of Thunder: There are stereo effects and minor sound effects that I’ve never heard prior to the Z.buds. The atmospheric sounds of Floyd really play well with the noise-blocking design of the earbuds allowing you to hear every silence, instrument and effect.
Techmaster P.E.B. – Bass Computer (2000 re-release): This is an old “boom” album from when I was one of those annoying kids with the booming car stereo. The music consists of very low frequencies along with samples and other higher-pitch sounds. It’s been over 15 years since I had a car stereo that could play Techmaster properly and hearing it on the Z.buds was like traveling back in time. Every single low-end 20Hz signal was reproduced without flutter and the rest of the spectrum is clear and crisp. But this is Techmaster and the bass is what they’re known for and the Z.buds handle it incredibly well.
Rush – Signals: This is a good example of rock — strong drums, guitar, synthesizer, and vocals. The Z.buds handles the complexities of Peart’s drumming with tight, clear beats and crisp, perfect cymbals. The midrange from the guitars and vocals was never muddied by the buds no matter how loud I listened.
Crystal Method – Community Service: I like to listen to Crystal Method when I’m trying to concentrate on something. Actually, I’m listing while writing this! This example of electronica has a similar mix to Techmaster, just with more of a rock quality and less of the bass boom as a primary focus. The stereo effects are reproduced by the Z.buds perfectly and combined with the clarity of sound and noise-cancelling design, have actually given me a strange feeling of off-balance equilibrium during some extreme effects. I’ve near heard the stereo with enough clarity to have that happen before.
Overall, I found absolutely nothing to complain about in regards to the musical sound quality of the Z.buds. I believe that these exemplary results are due to the almost full blockage of outside noise along with the relatively large 10mm drivers.
As for audio quality when used for phone calls, that takes some getting used to. The people you’re talking to sound better than ever, as you’d expect. However, your own voice sounds strange due to the greatly reduced feedback. It’s somewhat like if you’re in an airplane and your ears need to “pop” and things sound strange. This isn’t something that makes the Z.buds unusable for phone calls, but it will definitely take time to get used to. As such, when used for primarily music and an occasional phone conversation, the Z.buds are just fine, but if I blabbed on the phone a ton, I might re-think using the Z.buds as my primary headset.
Here’s the requisite bullet-list of Pros and Cons with the Zagg Z.buds in my opinion:
- Sound quality.
- Build quality (metal earphones, cord sheath).
- Ear comfort.
- Volume control.
- Noise blocking earphones.
- iPhone compatible control pod.
- Feels a bit heavy when not using “hangin’ tight” configuration.
- In “hangin’ tight” the microphone/control button may rub on your collar creating noise during conversations, or be in a strange place.
- No instructions.
- Talking on the phone with noise blocking earphones sounds strange at first.
If you are like me and plan to use the Z.buds mainly for music and an occasional phone call, I don’t think you can go wrong. There aren’t really any significant detractors in the design and the audio is really something else, especially if you’re coming from the Apple earphones or another similar design. The build quality is top-notch and the feature list is large for earbuds.
However, if you talk on the phone constantly, you may want to think twice. The noise-cancelling earbud design will certainly let you hear who you’re talking with in a noisy environment, but you may have trouble with the sound of your own voice, at least initially. This isn’t any fault of the Z.buds, but just what happens when plug your ears and don’t get the feedback that you’re used to.
The Zagg Z.buds are normally $80 or so, but at the time I’m writing this, they have them on special for $65 which is a great deal in my opinion. You’re getting the sound quality of high-end earbuds for a reasonable mid-level price. Even if you don’t have an iPhone, you’ll still be able to enjoy great sound, comfort and phone use. Check-out the Zagg Z.buds site for more information or to order.