Review: In-Ear Headphones for Under $100

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Pictured from left/top: PureGear Pure Boom, Velodyne vPulse, JayBird Freedom. Image: Alice Truong for Discovery Channel

We’re taking a look at three pairs of sub-$100 in-ear headphones that will be making their way to CES in January: the PureGear Pure Boom ($49.99), Velodyne Vpulse ($89) and Jaybird Freedom ($99).

PureGear Pure Boom

Image: Alice Truong for Discovery Channel

Even though the PureGear Pure Boom at $50 is the cheapest pair of the bunch, it’s a worthy competitor. Like the two other pairs, it has a nice anti-tangle linguini-like cord that is easy to wind up. But overall, it’s a low-frills pair of headphones. Even though I often have trouble finding earbuds that fit, the default pair of ear tips did the trick for the most part. In terms of sound, these earphones have pretty decent bass given their size, but what it lacks is sound clarity. The mids feel compressed and lack character, with vocals often sounding muddled. It can feel like you’re losing a large chunk of the music experience. These earphones also come with a compact and sturdy carrying case.

Velodyne vpulse

Image: Alice Truong for Discovery Channel

Velodyne’s vPulse in-ear headphones is marketed as such: Dre does beats, but Velodyne does bass. Then it’s no surprise the company best known for its subwoofers does a pretty decent bass. That said, I think the sound could be fuller, lacking depth overall. The vPulse comes in two colors, the electric blue (pictured) and classic black. The blue pair has a look that resembles brushed metal, a fashion statement on its own. To find the right fit, there are eight additional pairs of ear tips (half in white, the other in black) of varying sizes in addition to the one on by default. Like the Pure Boom, it also uses a flat, wide anti-tangle cord and comes with a compact carrying case.

JayBird Freedom

Image: Alice Truong for Discovery Channel

JayBird’s Freedom Bluetooth earphones were designed to withstand the gym: that means staying in place when on the treadmill and working in a sweaty environment. With a combination of three sizes of ear cushions (which latch on the outer ear with their soft rubbery material) and three sizes of ear tips, if you put in the effort to try out different combinations, you should be able to find a fit (don’t forget that one ears can be different in size and shape from its counterpart). After trying varying combinations, I’m still not convinced I’ve nailed the fit quite yet. Occasionally, it fits perfectly. But more often than not, that doesn’t happen, and I struggle to find the right depth and angle to for a glove-like fit. The ear hooks help the situation some, ensuring they at least won’t fall out. It also comes with a study hard-shell carrying case with magnetic clasp. When it comes to sound, I’m won over. The JayBird Freedom earphones have rich, full sound, hitting all the right notes. I’ve always thought of gym headphones as the reject pair that came with the iPod, but these make sense. Its Bluetooth capability provides the ultimate tangle-free experience. The two ear pieces hook up via a short flat cable that stays behind the neck and connects wirelessly to other Bluetooth-enabled devices, which means no more cord worries on the treadmill. Outside the gym, it’s probably more convenient to plug in a cable instead of setting up a Bluetooth connection each time you want to listen to some tunes. Lastly, I’d like a universal type of USB cable to charge the headphones instead of a proprietary cable, just in case I’m careless.

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