Gadgetorama reviews the miniBuds headphones from Boxwave

 

Introduction

I listen to quite a bit of music on my iPAQ and my new iPod nano. Which means that I carry headphones with me wherever I go. I’m still not sure why but each and every time that I pull my headphones out, I have to untangle the wires. It’s probably one of those life certainties and it’s mildly annoying to say the least. Fortunately, BoxWave has come to our rescue with the miniBuds headphones. They come with a cord coiling mechanism that neatly wraps up the wires so that they cannot get tangled up.

Using the miniBuds

As you can see in Figure 1, the miniBuds ship in a small blister pack. Instructions on how to use the headphones are printed on the back.

Blister pack
Figure 1: The blister pack

The miniBuds look pretty standard if you only look at the ear buds themselves. But beyond that, there are some big differences with normal headphones. As you can see in Figure 2, the earbuds stick out of a round assembly the size of a toonie (Canadians will understand the reference) or about 3.5 centimeters in diameter. The gold-plated headphone jack sticks out from the other end of the assembly. Everything measures just over 10 centimeters in length and weighs just over 20 grams.

The fun begins when you grab the two ends and pull. The round assembly is actually spring-loaded winding mechanism and as you pull, unwinds the headphones wires that are spooled around it. Pull out as much as much wire as you need and the spooler will then lock into place. Fully extended, the headphones measure just over 100 centimeters.

To retract the wires back, you again grab both ends and a gentle tug will start the retraction. In a couple of seconds, the wires have once again disappeared into the plastic casing. Pulling on only one end will not work. I tried and quickly came to the conclusion that both hands are required here.

Where the headphone wires split, there is a wire-manager, essentially a free-moving piece of plastic, that helps prevent the winding mechanism from snaring if the wires twist together. You can see the wire manager in Figure 3; it’s the small 5 sided piece just below the ear buds.

The headphones also come with a clip that you can attach to your clothing. When I wear a shirt with a chest pocket, life is great. I hook the clip into the pocket and off I go. But if I wear a t-shirt or a sweater, the clip is much harder to use as the fabrics are thicker or lack the convenient edge of a pocket. The wires are too short (or I’m too tall) to clip the winding mechanism to my belt. But as much as I sometime struggled with the clip, I still used it nearly all the time. Without it, the winding mechanism pulls down on the headphones, making them a lot less comfortable and sometimes causing them to fall out of my ears.

Most of the time, I did not have any issues with the winding mechanism. But once in a while, it would snare up and stop retracting. In most cases, the wire manager is the culprit. It will hit the assembly and stop the retraction. If you move the wire manager back before a retraction you should have a lot fewer problems. But it also happens in other circumstances. Fortunately, you simply extend the cables out and try again. I only ran into one problem extending the cables. The locking mechanism refused to lock and I had to retract the headphones completely and try again, this time successfully. I also found it a little difficult sometimes to lock the winding mechanism at any length except the maximum. A little practice will help you improve your odds of success.

miniBuds
Figure 2: The BoxWave miniBuds
closeup
Figure 3: miniBuds close up

Out of curiosity, I started a retraction and just let go of the two ends. The wires retracted without issue (except for wires whipping around for a second). But I don’t recommend you do this; instead, keep a little tension and control the rewind process to ensure you don’t damage the headphones.

The minibuds are rated for 20 Hz to 20 kHz which is a fairly standard frequency standard. For the purposes of this review, I compared the miniBuds to the headphones that come with the iPod nano as well as a pair of Sony earbud headphones that I have been using for a couple of years.

In terms of sound quality and levels, I found the BoxWave headphones to be on par with the Sony ones. The miniBuds are slightly louder (due to the Neodymium drivers?) than the nano headphones and I found the sounds a little richer.

When it came to comfort, I can keep the miniBuds in my ears for extended periods of time without discomfort (the same with my Sony headphones). The foam pads come already on and help prevent the miniBuds from falling out. Again, the nano headphones come up short here (a complaint that I had back when I compared listening to music on a 20GB HP iPod to a Pocket PC). The fact that the nano foam pads always fall off is another annoyance I did not run into with the miniBuds. As I mentioned above though, the miniBuds really become uncomfortable if you cannot clip the winding mechanism somewhere on your clothes – the weight of the winding mechanism will eventually hurt your ears.

In terms of overall length, the nano headphones are the longest (just over 110 centimeters), the Sony ones were next (around 105) and the BoxWaves were the shortest at just over 100 centimeters.

One thing I found myself missing on the miniBuds is the volume control that comes on my Sony headphones. Given that the wires retract, I understand that BoxWave could not put it on though. Could it fit on the winding mechanism itself perhaps?

Other features

The BoxWave miniBud headphones come in either silver-white (the ones I have) or black and you have a choice of 2.5mm or 3.5mm jack versions (Make sure you check your device specifications before you place your order).

Boxwave also includes an extra set of foam pads with your miniBuds.

What I liked

  • Good sound quality
  • Compact and no tangled wires
  • Comfortable ear buds

What I did not like

  • Clip difficult to use with certain clothing
  • Wire manager occasionally snares up wire roll-up

Summary

If you are an audiophile, earbud headphones are unlikely to be the right choice for you. But if you are on the move all the time, earbud headphones are a convenient and light option to consider. The miniBuds from Boxwave are designed with mobility in mind. The winding mechanism eliminates the snarl of wires that usually happens when headphones are stored in a pocket somewhere and keeps your headphones in a conveniently small package. And it’s all offered at a very reasonable price.

Rating

4 out of 5

Where can I get them?

You can purchase the miniBuds from BoxWave for $22.95 USD.