Provides: Noise isolating in-ear headphones with iPod/iPhone remote and microphone
Colors: Grey with blue accents or all black
Developer: BOOM Movement
Minimum Requirements: Any audio source with a 1/8″ headphone jack. Remote functionality should work on most recent model Apple products.
Availability: Out Now
Not so much headphones as tiny, metal-clad funnels that cram an immersive and expansive sound stage straight into your ears, BOOM’s Commander in-ear headphones feature excellent sound with exceptional clarity, and are tuned to produce natural and powerful sound. Although they heavily emphasize style and form—tracing a creative origin to the street artist and surfer movement of Southern California—they are also heavy on function, sharing technical and audio engineering with Polk Audio via a shared parent company. According to their website, the BOOM Movement aims to stand out from the uninspired masses, and with a pair of Commanders delivering your sound, your music collection has never sounded more inspired.
Tiny, but Packin’
I first stumbled across BOOM Movement at this year’s Macworld/iWorld expo, where they had a number of on- and in-ear headphones and a demo unit of the forthcoming Urchin bluetooth speaker. With bright colors and sharp designs, including outrageously orange headbands and precision chamfered edges on the Commanders, the products on display certainly drew attention.
I picked up my Commanders for review on the show floor, and tore into them before I had a chance to do any research. Based upon a very positive first listen, I pegged these as being part of the “sub $100″ market, which is generally code for headphones priced at $99. I was shocked to see them listed at only $49.99, especially given the presence of the inline remote and mic (from which they derive their name)—this is a feature for which higher-end headphones often charge a $20+ premium or just don’t include. There’s even a cloth carrying pouch in the box for protection on the go.
Given the number of headphones I review, it’s unusual for a new pair to take the place of old favorites, but the Commanders have become my new standard for in-ear headphones. The small size allows the 10mm drivers to be positioned well inside the ear canal, while their extremely light weight makes them comfortable for extended use. Noise isolation is great, cutting ambient noise of household appliances, light rail public transit, and the chatter of coworkers or coffee shop patrons considerably, allowing you to focus on the music. And these precisely-tuned headphones deliver a level of clarity, stereo separation, and audio performance that you really won’t want to miss.
Even before you hear them, the Commander headphones look expensive. The machined metal of the headphone casing features a double chamfered edge and a set of engraved shiny rings, matching Apple’s current aluminum+shiny edge designs on the iPhone 5 and iPad Mini. The cord is fabric-wrapped to avoid tangles, which is normally a huge issue for in-ear headphones, as the noise isolating seal causes vibrations/scratches from the cable fabric to be transmitted directly into your eardrums. The BOOM’s largely overcome this issue with a soft silicone enclosure at each connection point, including where the cables enter the driver housing, so this external noise is dampened to an acceptable level.
Ear tip options include small, medium, and large silicone gel, and are comfortably sized to allow a solid fit for proper bass reproduction.
Plug in the Commanders and prepare to be amazed. Although the soundstage starts out very compressed, it opens up nicely after a brief burn in period while retaining a crispness, precision, and clarity that is outstanding for many genres of music. With tuning by engineers from sister company Polk, this is hardly surprising, but it’s tough to find another pair of in-ear headphones that combine fashion statement and balanced audio performance. The sound delivered by these headphones doesn’t artificially ramp up one element of the music to the exclusion of others; bass is present but does not dominate the sound. This allows the Commanders to perform brilliantly on a wide variety of music:
- Space Punk: Probably not a recognized genre, but the self-made description for the electronic duo Coyote Kisses. Their songs feature heavy bass lines with intensely layered overlapping rhythms and samples of remixed pop songs. The Commander’s superlative clarity grants each rhythm its rightful due, while also maintaining a solid, driving bass (assuming you’ve got the right fit on the ear tips).
- Who?: The Who’s Baba O’Riley features a synthesizer opening that should, over good headphones, make you feel like your brain is doing backflips. To that, add heavy crashing rock, soaring vocals, and a dash of pre-Bollywood Indian melody, and you have a full spectrum of sound to enjoy. The Commanders are more than adequate for the task, providing precise stereo imaging for that opening and then rendering each layer on top of it to capture the fully trippy effect of this song.
- Beethoven’s Symphony #9: The final movement of this symphony (the Ode to Joy portion) is alternately a delicate thread of orchestration with a single voice or a wall of sound. Over the Commanders, Plácido Domingo’s 1981 performance of the Symphony is exceptionally rendered. Each instrument is identifiable, and the nuance of each soloist’s performance is produced faithfully. When that wall hits at the end, watch the funnel effect come into play—it literally feels like the Commanders are cramming a concert hall straight into your skull. The Commander’s clarity lets you step forward and pick out an individual instrument or voice, but you’re welcome to step back and let the sound overtake you.