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Mistake: I bought some dire £12 Vodafone headphones yesterday

Screen shot 2011 03 15 at 10 58 46

Yesterday morning as I was packing my bag for the weekly trip to Paris, I had a feeling I was forgetting something. I checked the passport, the power cables, the charging leads and so on. All was good. I left the house.

It was only when I got on the tube toward the Eurostar terminal at London St. Pancras that I remembered: I’d forgotten my headphones. My decent in-ear ones. I can’t remember the brand name — but they were about £30 and they’ve been serving me well for months.

For a long time I’ve been a big fan of the Shure brand of headphones. They’re typically priced in exactly the same way Apple does it: Small, medium and stupidly expensive. In this case, their pricing tends to go £69, £129, £229. Something like that. It’s been at least two years since I bought any Shures. I think I’ve bought about 5 models in the last few years. The last pair were, if memory serves, the £200+ ones. All good until something went wrong with them and I had to decide whether to bother doing anything about it. I chose not to make the time to fix them and reached for another pair from an old Dell laptop.

They did the job. I then swapped to the most recent £30 pair. Again, they did the job.

I like to hear my music properly, but I have limited appreciation for ‘bass’ and all that jazz. You know when you talk to someone about headphones and they rave about the particular audio definition that one model offers beyond another? That’s when I zone out. Provided I can hear the music/audio nicely, all is good. And ideally, the headphones should be comfortable.

I prefer in-ear ones just because they block out the noise. Useful when you’re on the tube or trying to work in a coffee shop surrounded by chattering arses.

So realising that I’d left my headphones on my desk at home, I resolved to fix the issue at St. Pancras station.

I know that WH Smiths (the newsagent) tends to always have a pair of headphones for sale behind the counter. Useful, that.

When I arrived at the station, the exit I’d chosen presented me in front of the WH Smiths and the Vodafone shop.

I decided to choose the Vodafone shop. I reckoned they’d have a pair of cheap reasonably good headphones for sale.

I walked into the shop. The assistant manager chap was fiddling with the iPhone stand in the centre of the store. He looked up and said hello. I replied as I walked toward the back to the accessories section.

I can’t tell you how delighted I was to see a pair of in-ear headphones on the shelf. Excellent resource planning, Vodafone. Excellent thinking. I then looked at the price. I was expecting a price-bracket of £15-£30 for the bog standard pair, and I was allowing in my mind for a more expensive pair if available. My wallet was most definitely open to whatever Vodafone had to offer me.

The pair on the shelf were marked at £12 — with an integrated microphone. Bargain.

I noted that these headphones came with a range of adapters to work with Sony Ericsson, Samsung and so on. Very good. They also had extra ear buds. And, they were ‘noise cancelling’ too.

Noise cancelling? I wasn’t expecting much. Not for £12.

I took them to the till and paid.

Job done.

However, my expectations were set incorrectly. I was expecting to get normal audio. You know, good-enough quality to be able to listen to music. I didn’t need them to impress, just to work.

Unfortunately they didn’t do that very well. Indeed, they were very good at cancelling nearly all the audio coming out of my iPhone, especially in the left ear.

I’d say the left earbud was about 70% reduced. If I took out the right earbud, I could only just hear the audio from the left.

I did all sorts of tests with my iPhone and my laptop to try and see if the problem was caused by the audio input or by the headphones.

It was the headphones.

£12 spunked up the wall.

I expected a lot better.

I’m not using my £1.48 knock-off Apple iPhone headphones that I bought from Amazon. I bought these as my last resort. After visiting Paris a few weeks ago and forgetting all my chargers and cables, I bought a job-lot on Amazon and secreted them about my bag. I put micro-USB and iPhone cables in hard to access pockets. I also impulse-purchased this £1.48 pair of headphones and stuck them in the depths of the bag.

You never know — that was my logic.

I had intended the Vodafone headphones to be half decent replacements or alternatives for my £30 pair. They certainly looked good.

Dear me.

I think I’d have been better with the pair from WH Smiths. I don’t know that for sure but I’m willing to bet that the WH Smiths pair actually play audio normally.

So at least I’ve got some headphones. No thanks to Vodafone.

Perhaps I’ve got a dud pair? They were, after all, apparently manufactured in the UK by some mobile accessory firm. I threw the packaging away in London so I can’t name and SHAME the arses who produced the rubbish. Goodness knows what’s going on with quality control at the Vodafone accessory team.

I would like to suggest that you avoid making my mistake. If you’re in need of a half-decent pair of headphones because you’ve forgotten yours, go to another shop.

Further, I’d recommend buying the knock-off £1.48 iPhone headphones made by ‘Itek’ as they actually work. I just bought a few more pairs. Useful to have.

Meanwhile, what headphones do you use?

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

9 replies on “Mistake: I bought some dire £12 Vodafone headphones yesterday”

I’ve recently gone to the expensive side of things with a pair of Sennheise IE-8s. Totally worth the money to me, but from the sound of it not really for you.
The Klipsch Image 4s I had previously would seem like a good deal. Reasonable noise isolation, extremely comfortable, and easily good enough sound reproduction.

I seem to have a terrible habit of losing headphones, I think in the last 12 months I have lost 6 pairs from iPhone standard ones to my Skull Candy ones (only the cheap ones). So I no longer invest in expensive headphones/headsets as they like to go visiting others so at the moment I am using my HTC Trophy headphones for my iPhone and Trophy.

I had a Sony MP3 player that did “proper” noise canceling in-ear phones, rather than this isolating bollocks. I’d bought it in the US (never seen it in the UK) wasn’t much more expensive than a non-noise canceling MP3 player and was *FANTASTIC*. Absolutely great on flights, I used it to sleep with the MP3 paused; and because it was all integrated of course it just used the battery from the MP3 player – no faffing about with an extra battery box on the cord. It had aux-in so I could play other stuff through it if I so desired.

Now 4-5 years old the headphone cord plastic covering has gone brittle 🙁 If I could just replace the phones (can’t find a source, esp since they don’t appear to have ever been sold in the UK) then I’d probably carry on using it – the battery still has great capacity.

I’ve bought some 30 quid Klipsch phones off Amazon so far, which seem pretty good but aren’t a match on the old Sony. I’m not sure what to get next, and am astonished that there isn’t a single phone on the market that has noise canceling support built in.

I’m sure I used to own some dedicated noise-cancelling Sony headphones that were stand-alone, jakdaw. They had the unit integrated into the cable.

Ewan, I did EXACTLY the same as you at exactly the same Vodafone shop. I had a few minutes before catching my train and needed a cheap pair of earphones for the journey up north as my old Sony’s decided to break. I decided Vodafone was probably my best bet. They deal in ‘consumer electronics’ so surely they must have a half decent pair for a few quid?

Oh how wrong I was. £12 wasted. They sounded like I was listening through a tin can or something, it was completely unlistenable.

I ended up just staring out the window for the whole journey instead of listening to these things ruin my music! I still have the packaging at home so I will happily name and shame the makers.

I’ve since bought some nice £50 Sennheiser’s that do the job perfectly.

Paul, I’m delighted you posted this note so we can confirm that a) I’m not
going crazy and b) my shit £12 headphones were not an exception.

You’d think Vodafone would know what they’re doing…

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