Black Eyed Peas front man will.i.am likes to think of himself as a bit of a technology auteur. His own website describes him as being “an idea generator” and someone who is on the “frontier of interactive technology” . The sad reality is that everything, up until this point, that has been born from the idea generator’s mind has amounted to nothing more than a giant, steaming pile of — and I’m being quite polite here — shite.
Fast Company described his original smartwatch the “Puls” as being “Hilariously dumb”. Dan Seifert over at The Verge was slightly more blunt, he said it was“the worst product [he’s] touched all year3”. But I think Benny Evangelista for SFGate.com said it best calling it “the single worst consumer electronics gadget I have ever tested”. Ouch.
To will.i.am’s credit (or stupidity), despite all the negative reviews and low sales, nothing has stopped him from pursuing his techno-lust dreams. His tech brand “i.am+” went on to release a second smartwatch called “Dial”. The watch itself was so unpopular it was never sold outside of the UK but bundled with it was a set of headphones that people seemed to enjoy and may very well have been the inspiration behind his latest product the i.am+ Buttons.
Let’s get this out of the way first: they look ridiculous. Called “Buttons” I assume because of the large, metal grooved circles that look a little like a button on each ear piece, there is not a single piece of my body that thought ”Hey you know what, these would look really cool on me!”.
Instead you take one look at their box adorned with a bunch of celebrities, including of course the great man will.i.am himself, along with the tagline “For the dope” and you do all you can to not piss yourself laughing and move on to the next thing to review. Finally, after a month or two of wetting yourself looking at them everyday, you try them on, because… well… you were drunk one night and thought it’d be funny.
Then you get angry and have all these conflicted feelings about life, the universe and everything because not only are they some of the most comfortable and well fitting earphones you’ve worn they’re also (spoiler alert) the best sounding ones too!
God damn it.
If you ignore their ghastly “button” ear pieces the earphones are relatively normal looking and swallows pride well designed. Available in a variety of colours the Buttons have a genuinely pleasant and modern aesthetic to them. The cord connecting the two earpieces is a woven nylon, very similar to the Beoplay H5’s I reviewed a few months back. I always prefer this material over rubber as it never sticks to the skin of your neck as you look side to side.
…not only are they some of the most comfortable and well fitting earphones you’ve worn they’re also the best sounding ones too!
The cord also plays home to the as-to-be-expected controls for the unit. Its buttons are well spaced and easy to locate. Not once did I have to look down at them to figure out what I was pressing or why it wasn’t doing what I expected. Something I can’t say for every set of wireless headphones I’ve tested.
On one side of the control unit is a small latch protecting a micro-USB port used to charge the headphones. The Buttons’ battery charges quite quickly and can provide up to six hours of continuous playback without any difficulty. Six hours really isn’t good enough these days though; 12 is the new black.
It’s on the other side of the Buttons’ fashionista ear pieces where their design is truly impressive. Included with the Buttons is a wide variety of sizing and fit options that go well beyond the normal small, medium, large bundles you receive with most in-ear headphones. The literal platter of included options snap onto the earbud allowing you to change how the Buttons fit, some preferring a true in-ear experience that seals them from outside noise, others a more ambient variety similar to that of Apple’s AirPods.
For those preferring the in-ear option a second fin like piece is then added to secure them perfectly for your ear shape meaning not only are you tailoring them to your ear canal but also to your ear’s contours. Whilst running they didn’t move at all and the seal was constant, in a noisy office environment the background noise was definitely minimal.
They are without a doubt the best sealed and most comfortable in-ear headphones I’ve used to date. It’s just a shame the other side has a giant metal disc on it that serves no purpose than to ruin a good product, oh and they’re magnets too.
The Buttons sound amazing too. Shockingly so in fact. I have no idea what magic Will.i.am and his team have done but you can’t put it down to just having a better seal than other earphones. Treble is crisp, bass is punchy and mids are sharp. In fact if it weren’t for just how good they sound and fit, this review probably would never have been written.
As I went through my regular list of test tracks even the more troublesome songs sounded better than I expected. Queens of the Stone Age’s “Go with the flow” for example, has been a consistently low scorer across every set of headphones and while they were in no way perfect they did an admirable job while scoring well across nearly everything else too.
They are without a doubt the best sealed and most comfortable in-ear headphones I’ve used to date
“Go with the flow”, Kanye & Jay Z in Paris, the audiobook and Childish Gambino’s “Bonfire” all scored B’s of one variety or another for the same reason. Vocally the Buttons’ range was just not quite there. It’s a shame because what is surrounding them is extremely well reproduced. The instruments and sounds have great separation from one another, the bass isn’t overpowering – especially on the rap tracks – and everything is set up to be perfect, but they’re not. Not quite anyway.
It’s strange because almost every other track had no issue at all. Annie Mae, another notoriously low scorer, sounded probably the best I’ve heard it before. A song dominated by husky vocals mixed over the top of a double bass and the whisks of brushes on drum skins. It, like Dreams and Paranoid Android, were an absolute pleasure to listen to and where the Buttons truly shone.
Vocally devoid, Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” along with the Prodigy’s “Invaders Must Die”, stood out as the best performers for the Buttons. Clearly their lack of (or relatively minimal) vocals played a big part in that but to be able to perform so consistently across vastly different genres is a testament to their build and quality.
i.am+ Buttons - Audio Scorecard
|Moonlight Sonata - Beethoven||A+|
|Ni**as in Paris - JAY Z & Kanye West||B-|
|Dreams - Fleetwood Mac||A|
|Annie Mae - John Lee Hooker||A|
|Bonfire - Childish Gambino||B|
|Ariana Grande - Love Me Harder||A|
|Paranoid Android - Radiohead||A|
|Go With The Flow - Queens Of The Stone Age||B|
|The Prodigy - Invaders Must Die||A-|
|Pilot X (Audiobook) - Tom Merritt||B|
The i.am+ Buttons are, on an audio level, fantastic. Aesthetically, they’re sadly on another planet. A planet populated with C grade celebrities, social media influencers and other cool (or as the Buttons’ marketing material puts it) “dope” people.
It’s really unfortunate too because beneath their awful earring emblazoned exterior lies a pair of the best sounding in-ear headphones I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. Instead, just like I did to begin with, a book will be judged on its cover and made worse by the track record of its author.
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