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Apple unleashes not-crap iPhone iPod earbuds

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Three months after they were said to be on the horizon, Apple today announced availability of the dual-driver in-ear headphones with remote and mic ($79) and single-driver earphones with remote and mic ($29).

"Availability," however, is a wee bit of a squishy term: Apple's web store says that the higher-end model will ship in "7-10 business days" and the lower-end model in "3-4 weeks." So much for instant gratification.

A note to iPhone owners: Don't be confused by the inclusion of the word "mic" in these product's names. In a blow to those unfortunate iPhoneys who are laboring to hear clearly through the 'Phone's less-than-stupendous stock earphones, Apple makes no claims of iPhone compatibility for these new earbuds. Their remote and mic capabilities are supported only by the fourth-gen iPod nano, 120GB iPod classic, and second-gen iPod touch. Audio playback, on the other hand, is supported in all iPod models - which, we can only assume, includes the iPhone 3G.

The iPhone's incompatibility, according to surmises made by AppleInsider is caused by the fact that although the earbuds' remote mojo will control volume on iPods, the iPhone is "not designed to adjust volume with the mic switch." Audio playback, yes. Remote capability, no.

Which is too bad, seeing as how the in-ear headphones with remote and mic appear - in their specs, at least - to be a fine bits of ear candy. The lower-priced earphones seem mere same-old, same-old on the audio front, with the addition of the remote and mic being their raison d'etre.

But the in-ear units have dual drivers in each earpiece, with a frequency response rated at 5Hz to 21kHz. Apple supplies three different-sized eartips to help in passive sound isolation, and each earpiece is protected by a removable stainless steel mesh cap - two extra caps are also provided should the originals gets so heinously gunked up with earwax that you'd rather replace than autoclave them.

Both new earbuds include a mic to take advantage of the current-generation iPods' ability to record on-the-fly notes and memos without third-party hardware - and thus Apple walls up yet another mini-market niche, this one occupied by products such as Belkin's TuneTalk.

The slim and cylindrical, three-button in-line remote provides volume control with outbound plus and minus buttons, and music and video-playback (play/pause and next/previous) control by a larger center button.

We'll reserve judgment on the new higher-end earbuds until we actually stick them in our ears in "7-10 business days" (5Hz? Hmm...). But we fervently wish that they could fully replace the decidedly sub-optimal earbuds that ship with the iPhone 3G. ®

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