As I said in my wrap-up of the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show: you could divide this year’s new products into two categories: “headphones” and “everything else.” If your company didn’t have an earbud or three on display, you may as well have been trying to market My Little Pony dolls at BotCon. So, in all honesty, when representatives from Bell’O handed me an admittedly sexy package containing their own new earbuds, I smiled politely, said my thanks, and promptly forgot about them until a buddy of mine recently enquired about them.
I figured the least I could do was stick them in my ears for a few minutes before I told him they sucked. And so I did.
Guess what? They don’t suck.
I know, I know. I’m as surprised as you are.
But really, I shouldn’t be. Bell’O has a reputation for making amazingly beautiful AV furniture for not a lot of dollars. And, as I said, the packaging for the BDH653 headphones is super swanky. Not that packaging is everything, but remember that game from The Price is Right, where Bob shows the contestant a product and some random numbers and they have to guess the right price while a studio full of blue-hairs scream out their random contradictory guesses? Take a look at the BDH653s in the box, given a nine, three threes, and a decimal (they have decimals on The Price is Right, right? Let’s assume they did), and you probably wouldn’t hesitate to jot down $93.99 as your guess. So, at $39.99, this is a downright sexy package.
Pull them out of the box and they’re no less nice. The BDH653s are incredibly solidly built, with metallic hard plastic casings and wonderfully durable feeling flat rubberized cords that seem like they could withstand a lot of abuse and are ridiculously resistant to tangling, even if they are a little microphonic.
Despite their solid construction, though, the ’buds are incredibly light and comfy. I’ve worn them for hours at a time without a bit of discomfort, and the silicone tips provide solid noise isolation and a tight fit without any appreciable discomfort. (The package includes three sizes of tips; the mid-sized ones work best for me.) The in-line volume control gave me pause at first, since it’s a slider instead of the couple of buttons I’m used to. It doesn’t feel quite as substantial as the rest of the package, but I’ve found that I like using it a lot more than I thought I would
Of course, beautiful build quality for the price is all well and good, but how do they sound? Actually, not bad at all. They’re a little bright for my tastes, but nothing that my iPhone’s Treble Reducer EQ setting can’t smooth out. Bass is musical and robust, even if it isn’t the downright deepest I’ve heard. Midrange is rich and articulate, which really comes into play with more vocalist-oriented music. Keep in mind, though, that the only earbuds I have on hand with which to compare run between $129 and $300. Perhaps not the fairest comparison, but I’ve never owned another $39 earbud that I would keep around long enough for a point of reference. And these, to my ears, sound better than the $179 Monster iSport Immersion in-ear headphones I also picked up at the show (which, incidentally, sport pretty much exactly the same flat rubberized cables, and yet manage to feel a little cheaper overall than the Bell’Os).
Everything I’ve thrown at the BDH653s—from Girl Talk to Buke & Gass to Beastie Boys to Greg Laswell—has sounded really quite good once I got the high frequencies to behave with a bit of EQing. Not in a revelatory, holy-crap-my-mind-is-blown sort of way, but more of a pleasant, these-wouldn’t-sound-half-bad-for-another-twenty-bucks kind of thing. They’re not going to win over the hardcore audiophile crowd, but then again, how many audiophiles would even consider buying a $39.99 pair of earbuds? I’m thinking exactly none. (And I have to admit, I wouldn’t be in the market for them, either). But a lot of you undoubtedly would, and do! And no doubt, you’ve spent $40 on a set of ’buds before only to find them to be mostly disposable.
That’s perhaps the biggest selling point of the Bell’O Digital BDH653s: they’re not even a little bit disposable. They’re built incredibly solidly, come with a nice, slim carrying case that’s perfectly pocket-sized, and are as easy on the eyes as they are comfortable. And perhaps more importantly, they’re not neon pink, nor to they sport angsty little silk-screened skulls on them. These are incredibly affordable, very well-made headphones for grown folks.
Now the bad news: you can’t buy them yet. But you should be able to pick them up—along with the rest of the Bell’O Digital headphone line, which starts at the high end here and goes down to a meager $9.99 at the low end—starting in late April or early May.