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ShearMe

[Comparison] Ear-Clip Headphone Roundup

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Posted · Original PosterOP
A couple months ago I got it in my head that a clip-on headphone might be the perfect thing for using at work. I do a lot of walking, stacking chairs, pushing/lifting heavy objects, etc. so a typical headphone is out of the question most of the time. I used to use IEMs, but occasionally there'll be a day where someone's trying to talk to you every 10 minutes, and sweaty IEMs don't like being constantly removed and inserted. Ear-Clip headphones are as portable as an IEM, but as easy to take off as a headphone. In other words, the best of both worlds.
 
I perused Amazon for what seemed to be the most popular ear-clip headphones - the Koss KSC75, Philips SHS4700/28, audio-technica ATH-EQ300M, and Sony MDR-Q68LW. I sprung for the Sony, because the retractable cable seemed worth the extra price (most on that later). Since I enjoyed the experience so much, and because they are cheap, I purchased all the others in order to write this review/comparison. 
 
gallery_2468_382_1062358.jpg

 

Build
 
The Wire
For cheap headphones, I believe comfort and usability are the biggest factors. When considering portable options, the biggest negative is always going to be the cable - too long and you've got a bundle of wire to lug around in your pocket; too short and you can't stuff extra wire into your pocket, and it snags on stuff. Another thing about the cable is how you store the headphone when not in use. For regular headphones, you can wrap the wire around the headband, for IEMs you can wind the whole thing up, but for clip-ons there's not much you can do, and the wires tangle easy. Obviously the Sony's retractable cable wins here - push a button and shorten it to the length you want.
 
The audio-technica (hereafter labeled AT) and the Philips have different lengths from where the dual wire splits off to each ear piece (left earpiece wire is shorter than the right's)*, but the Koss's is equal lengths on both sides. I find the different length wires to feel rather weird when you're moving about. One of your ears is constantly being tugged while the other is free of that stress - I find this leaves me feeling unbalanced. Probably not an issue for stationary use, but a noteworthy issue otherwise.
 

Sony Clip-On Headphone w/Retractable Cable

 

The Clip
On comfort, that is going to be highly subjective. Best thing I can do is show you the differences, but you'll only really be able to tell by trying them out IRL.
 
The Philips clips have two positions - up and down. Philips includes a plastic shroud so you can change the thickness of the clip if desired. For me, the shroud made the ear piece sit to high up on my lobe, and didn't point the sound into my ear canal, but some Amazon reviewers said the shroud was perfect for them. The whole point is you can choose what fits you best, which is nice.
 
The AT's clips have two positions - up and down. AT's clip is thin and lightweight which is nice for some obvious reasons, but another side effect is the plastic can sometimes dig into your skin. The edges aren't sharp, but they're not quite as organically smoothed out as all the other clips. There's definitely a give and take in this situation.
 
The Koss's clips are stationary, but the ear piece does swivel around a little bit. The clip itself seemed to be the most comfortable out of all - it is covered by a nicely rounded, soft but firm rubbery material. Also, because it does not swivel out like the others' it doesn't pinch your lobe nearer the hinge. Unfortunately, because ti doesn't swivel, you have to squeeze your lobe into the space between the clip and the ear piece - if your lobe is too thick the clip WILL pinch your lobe. If the horizontal bar was a tad longer I would've fit inside perfectly, but this will vary from person to person. You can try bending the clip to varying degrees, but nothing super extreme. Once you get used to the fit and get some muscle memory built up it isn't so hard to put on and can start to feel comfortably snug.
 
The Sony's clips are spring-loaded. Good, because it'll fit better, bad over time because eventually that spring force will bite at your lobes. The shape of the clip is a better "S" curve, where the other ones are just a simple "C" shape. I found that taking smallish breaks every few hours helps with the spring bite.
 
sml_gallery_2468_382_963151.jpg
Sorry, Sony's clip not pictured.
 
The Ear Piece
Not really a big subject, but I figured I might as well include it. The Philips is the smallest in diameter (can cause placement issues like mentioned above), the AT is the thinnest (good for laying on your side in bed), and the Koss's padding is the most poofy. No comment on the Sony's - nothing great, nothing horrible. Retracting the cable while on your ear, and without slowing it down with a hand, can produce a pretty loud sound - nothing that'd damage your hearing I think.
 
Sound
 
TLDR - AT is treble weighted, Philips is bass weighted, Koss is V-curve, and Sony is flat-ish. Keep in mind these are all small cheap portable headphones so you can't expect any clear winners. They're all pretty good at what they do, but each lacks the greatness of another. 
 
The AT is very bright sounding. I've got fairly treble-sensitive ears, so it was rather appalling at first, but the highs are smooth and don't really shreek at you. Once I adjusted I found them easy enough to listen to for an extended period, but still missed the low end in many songs. It was there enough to recognize, much like an AKG K 701, so fans of an "accurate" reproduction might choose this. My older co-worker loved this pair - whether because of the typical old man loving treble or because he preferred the fit, I can't be quite sure because his English is lacking (I saw his smile and took it at "face" value).
 
The Philips's bass is leaning towards being muddy. Easiest to listen to for my treble-sensitive ears, even if not the best-sounding accurate reproduction. Though bass-weighted it didn't seem to reach down deep, like it peaked somewhere around 50Hz and then fell off somewhat sharply. Can easily be seen as muddy when switching directly from the AT's, but after adjustment it's a nice simple, though bland, listening. Good for background-type music at work.
 
The Koss's lack of mids made me sad, but it's the only open option in the roundup which is nice in it's own respect. None of these clip-ons isolate very much, but the openness makes the lack of isolation seem like a good thing, where on the others you might feel like bumping up the volume to compensate for the noise around you. The bass reaches all the way down, and the treble is just crossing the line of being tingly, so EDM lovers would likely enjoy this pair. The mids are sometimes hard to hear (I dare say veiled!), and I often had difficulty picking out the guitars I wanted to focus on. Long-term edit: The reviews of the KSC75 improving after extended burn-in are true! The highs really mellowed out and the mids stepped into the light, so to speak. I began using it more after the Sony's cable developed a short, and maybe it's all in my head, but I started enjoying it quite a bit after awhile.
 
The Sony was a Sony. Relatively flat throughout the frequency range, so you can hear everything you want to, but doesn't excite with any particular type of music like the others. Some may say "boring" but others will champion it for being a good all-rounder. 
 
Conclusion
 
The retractable cable and flat sound make the Sony a winner for my personal use. The Koss will likely be the more popular option, because of the void-touching depths of the bass, but still others will only find the Philips comfortable enough for long wearing or choose the AT for the accuracy of the highs. Personal preference is the name of the game, boys and girls, so don't let me be the jury.
 
Long-term edit: My Sony's right ear went out due to a break or short in the cable. I suspected it would happen, but did not want to bad mouth the product before it happened. Be wary that if you intend to use this where durability is key, you might be buying another pair in a few months.
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