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Plantronics Pulsar 590A Bluetooth headphones

Griffin EarThumps earphones

Splendid isolation?

Review I've long stopped listening to portable music players on London's Underground. You have to turn the volume so high to rise above the background racket, it quickly gets uncomfortable. I began to worry about my hearing.

Skip forward several years to the iPod era and my fears were undiminished - quite the reverse, actually, since I use my MP3 player far more than I did my Walkman. So Griffin's claim that its EarThumps earphones offer "exceptional noise isolation" intrigued me. Could they provide enough insulation from background noise to let me listen to my iPod on the tube at a sensible volume?

The answer is 'yes', but not to the extent I'd expected. Like other sound-isolating earphones, the EarThumps poke right into your ear. They're held in place by a rubber bungs which also help muffle outside noises. Griffin conveniently ships the EarThumps with three sizes of bung, to help you get the best fit.

The 'phones use smaller drivers than regular bud-style earphones, but since they extend further into the ear, they yield a much louder sound at a given volume setting. It's also boost the bass. Together these factors probably do more to cut through a noise environment than the bungs do to cut out extraneous sounds.

It's by no means perfect - put them in and they don't block out all the background - but they certainly cut it down significantly. Travelling by train the other day, I found I could certainly listen comfortably with the volume turned down, though not as far down as I might have my player set to in a quiet environment.

The EarThumps also minimised a problem I've experienced with a number of earbuds: they're far less prone to falling out, particularly when I'm walking and the movement of my coat against earphone cables tugs them away from my ears.

Speaking of cables, the EarThumps' wires are on the thin side. They're about three-quarters of the thickness of the cables on the earphones Apple bundles with the iPod. In the past, I've had problems with thin wires breaking within the plastice sheath, particularly at the point where the cable connects to the jack. There's nothing to suggest the EarThumps will be overly susceptible to this, but my personal prejudice is against thinner earphone cables.

Griffin EarThumps earphones

Another downside is that I'm not sure I like the feeling of the things inside my ears, or the sense of isolation it gives when you're out walking. On a train or plane, this is just what you want - outdoors, it can leave you wondering what you're not hearing: that fast-approaching car, those footsteps behind you... This isn't, perhaps, a product for those of a nervous disposition.

You can become too paranoid, of course, in which case just keep your EarThumps for certain circumstances. Griffin provides a rather natty little case to keep them in.

Griffin EarThumps earphones

Verdict

You can't complain about the price. At $20, Griffin's EarThumps are a bargain, significantly cutting down on background noise while you're listening, without forcing you to pump up the volume. They may not yield the kind of sonic improvements you'd get from the likes of Shure's E4c sound-isolating earphones, but the EarThumps come at a fraction of the price and are certainly deliver sound quality on a par with, if not better than bundled 'phones. ®

80%
Plantronics Pulsar 590A Bluetooth headphones

Griffin EarThumps earphones

Bargain background-sound blocking earphones...
Price: $19.99 RRP

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