A mere two years ago, I’d rather have watched a Giglio/Ishtar double feature than review a pair of earphones that cost less than $30. It’s not me being a snob, there’s just a minimum, baseline price for anything—a car, a television—below which you can safely say: This is crap. My minimum, for years, was $45 for earphones and headphones—below that and I knew to expect distortion, no bass response, tinny highs, and a poor fit. Lucky for the budget-minded audio enthusiast, the times have rapidly changed for cheap earphones, and there are now options like id America’s New Metropolitan. At $29.95 (direct), these simple earphones deliver powerful audio, including deep bass at high volumes, without distorting. Do they sound as good as an earphone pair that costs $50 or more? Nope, but they sound far better than they should at this price.
Just so we’re clear, we are referring to the “New Metropolitan” earphones—the only pair for sale on id America’s website, and the second, re-tuned version of the Metropolitan to be released.
As a New York resident, I was intrigued by the marketing of these earphones. “Born in New York” is printed on their carrying pouch and the ear pieces themselves. The fine print on the included manual tells you they were designed in New York, but Made in China. Rest assured, just about every pair of earphones or headphones I review is made overseas, except for a few models from boutique brands. But these earphones were conceived in New York and born in China, as are a lot of products out there—not a particularly special claim. The marketing is a little misleading beyond a simple case of semantics, so I thought we’d clear that up before moving along.
That said, as a New York resident, I’m quite pleased with the design of the New Metropolitan, which was done here. The earpieces (which are offered in six different color options, including blue, pink, and black, like our test pair) are lightweight and fit securely. Three pairs of silicone ear tips (small, medium, and large) are included with the earphones, but they ship with a pair of Comply foam ear tips already on. I suggest trying the Comply tips first—if you roll them up (while still on the earphones) and then place them at the base of your ear canal, the foam expands slowly, blocking out a wide swath of ambient room noise, providing a secure fit, and ensuring there will be decent bass response.
The cloth-bound cable for the New Metropolitan can be noisy when it moves around or thumps against your chest. Not ideal, but for $30, there are going to be some annoyances. Amazingly, a single-button remote control, which controls playback and track navigation, and a microphone for mobile devices is included. Let’s keep in mind that some more expensive brands offer two versions of their earphones—one with and one without a remote and mic—and the difference in price is typically in the ballpark of $20-30. That’s the price of these earphones, period.
Call clarity through the inline microphone is fine, and the remote is functional (no volume controls, but again: it’s $30!).
On tracks with intense sub-bass, like the Knife’s “Silent Shout,” you might expect the Metropolitan to offer little or no bass response, or worse, to distort like crazy at higher volumes. Wrong! At maximum (and quite unsafe) listening levels, the New Metropolitan doesn’t distort at all. Even more impressive, it delivers fairly robust bass for the price. For $30, it’s a solid impersonation of a higher-end earphone pair, and that is meant as an earnest compliment. Five years ago, nothing this price sounded like this—not even close.
On Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” we get a better sense of the New Metropolitan’s overall sound signature. It’s not amazing—the bass boosting adds too much thump to the drums, and too much low-mid resonance to Callahan’s baritone vocals. The crisp edge that is needed in order to balance out the bass response isn’t quite there, though there’s some tweaking in the high-mids that adds some extra, unwanted sibilance in spots.
Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild” suits the sound signature of the New Metropolitan far more naturally. The kick drum loop’s attack gets the treble edge that Bill Callahan’s voice doesn’t, and the sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with a decent amount of gusto. Vocals are neither muddy nor crisp, but they sit in the mix well and are clear and intelligible. Vocals that lack the baritone qualities of Callahan’s, like Kanye West’s or Frank Ocean’s, seem to fare better in terms of clarity through these earphones.
Classical tracks, like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” also sound pretty solid through the New Metropolitan. The bass boosting gives lower register strings and brass a little extra richness, and the higher register strings and brass already pack enough crispness to fend for themselves. This is by no means an ideal sound—the mids seemed scooped out of the mix at times, and sometimes the growl of the brass sounds harsh—but again: These sound are $30 earphones.
In fact, it’s hard to say anything really bad about the New Metropolitan without immediately following it with “but they’re only $30!” We’ve tested a pair, the RHA MA150, that is even cheaper and offers reasonable enough audio quality that, if you really want to save money, should probably win out over this pair, though the MA150 lacks an inline remote. Of course, there are also the ubiquitous Apple EarPods, which are a tremendous improvement over Apple’s original earbuds. And if you have a little more money to spend, the JBL J22i boasts deep bass and the Sennheiser CX 685 SPORTS has better overall audio performance, though it lacks a remote. All told, the id America New Metropolitan is a steal, and makes me wonder how good $30 earphones will sound like in another five years.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc