Given the popularity of the iPhone, it's no wonder we're seeing more and more earphones with integrated mics and controls for the device. Slightly cheaper than Apple's own £60 in-ear headphones, the rugged Zagg Z.buds offer an extra-thick, cloth-coated cable and a wider array of eartips for about £50.
The Z.buds' utilitarian look may not be for everyone, although the availability of four colour options (black, red, pink or yellow) should broaden their appeal somewhat. The plastic earpieces are attached to an extra-long, cloth-covered Y-cable that doesn't connect until about 75cm down. Here, Zagg includes three detached ball sliders that can be used to prevent tangles and adjust the span of the Y. The cord terminates another 66cm down in a reinforced, silver-plated L-plug.
Although the earpieces are quite compact and reasonably comfortable, we found that they didn't fit very securely in the long run. Even with the foam tips, the 'buds tended to slip out of our ears -- in fact, the tips themselves would slip slightly off the base arm. On the plus side, Zagg includes plenty of sleeves to choose from: two foam pairs, three standard silicone sets, and a triple-flanged style. These should help most users achieve a solid seal with the ear and take advantage of the earbuds' passive-sound-isolation ability.
In addition to the various eartips, Zagg includes a soft carrying pouch for the Z.buds. There's also a rather bulky plastic module attached to the left cable. It contains a volume knob, as well as a mic and a single, clickable button for controlling an iPhone or iPod. Pressing this button once will answer or hang up calls, pressing twice skips to the next song, and pressing three times goes back a track.
During testing, the Z.buds fared well in terms of sound quality, although certain styles of music shone much more than others, notably hip-hop, pop, dance and electronica. Some rock and funk has a tendency to sound muddy.
These earphones are definitely heavy on the bass, which is super-deep and can be overpowering at times. Some listeners will certainly appreciate this effect, however. While there's a suitable amount of detail on the high end, these earphones aren't as crisp or sparkly as the £65 Klipsch Image S4s. Their mid-range warmth is super, though, and we got a definite sense of being enveloped by both female and male vocals.
The Zagg Z.buds are a good choice for bass-addicted iPod and iPhone owners who are fine with not having a bright overall response. These earphones provide a good balance of comfort, durability and sound quality, although the latter isn't on a par with that of Klipsch's Image S4s.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet