The fabric cables are a nice touch, and so are the magnetised buds that snap together around your neck when life interrupts music.
I’m the guy who doesn’t like earbuds, but lately I’ve found two I could comfortably live with. Mind you, they’re both into three figures.
Now a solo artist, will.i.am is best known for fronting the Black Eyed Peas, and anyone whose most popular Spotify song has registered 200 million plays can safely be termed a successful musician. It’s looking bright for him in the tech business, too.
His i.am.Buttons are beautifully boxed and presented. The fabric cables are a nice touch, and so are the magnetised buds that snap together around your neck when life interrupts music. And the range of rubber earpads lets you either seal your ear canals or leave them open to hear the bus coming, both pad styles supplied in three sizes.
The open-air pads yield a very high-end oriented sound, and if you’re at all into will.i.am’s music, and even if you’re not, you’ll get a far more satisfying result using the seals. There’s much better bass and far more body. But it takes a while to figure putting the seals on, even following the quick start guide.
Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson’s music is a long way from will.i.am’s but he’s also into deep, extended bass and the Buttons do a nice job with it, but they’re just as capable with the Dallas String Quartet making The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony sound almost symphonic. They’re comfortable and the Bluetooth aptX tech is compact.
These are among the best earbuds I’ve tried. And for $289.95 so they damn well should be.
I guess when you’re paying three-figure prices for buds you expect the sexy packaging of the i.am.Buttons, but Braven’s Flye Sport Reflect raises the bar to an entirely new plane: a magnetic seal opens from the gently curving right side to reveal the little squared-off guys nestled cosily in their charger.
All that remains is to figure out how to get them out. It takes some patience. One must remove a taped seal down the inner hinge of the cover so it flops back to allow two little drawers to open, one holding the buds and charger, the other the peripherals. The buds are retained in a formed plastic holder and I chose the word “retained” carefully – one must wrench while attempting not to damage the cables.
The Bravens have a really neat idea: the charger is also a power bank. When the earbuds run out of fuel you can charge them by plugging them into the power bank, which holds enough zap for four charges of up to five hours playing each. They can play while in the power bank but they keep falling out of your ear because of its weight.
These are not noise-cancelling but they seal off the ear canals comfortably, reducing ambient noise significantly. They come with small, medium and large plugs and inner and outer ear hooks.
The Bluetooth is aptX and they sound good; not over bassy but there’s plenty of wallop, just not enough to drown the mid and high-range which are both very well represented. I hated the voice prompts, though – when you’re cranking up Philip Glass’s lurking bassline in Anthem from the Powaqqatsi soundtrack you don’t need the music to stop while the voice castigates you by saying “maximum volume” five bloody times.
They’re sweatproof, the neck band has a reflector built in and they’re phone compatible. When I finally got them out of the box I thought they were pretty good value at half the cost of the i.am.Buttons; $150. But I’d happily drown the voice prompts.