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TUAW earphone throwdown: Altec Lansing Muzx Ultra vs. Scosche IDR655m

When it comes to listening to music, watching movies on the run, or even making phone calls, the earphones you use on your iDevice make a difference. Apple's iconic white earbuds are everywhere, and the inline remote control and mic can be used on every iPhone, iPod, and iPad to some extent, although the lower-end iPods logically can't use the mic.

For audiophile Apple fans, those white earbuds just don't cut it, so a number of manufacturers have come out with high-end earphones. As fate would have it, two of those earphones -- the Altec Lansing Muzx Ultra (US$99.95) and Scosche IDR655m ($99.99) both arrived at my door about the same time. When I have competing reviews to do, I go the lazy route and force the entries to face off in a TUAW throwdown. Click the Read More link below and see who the winner is in this head-to-head battle of the earphones.
To begin with, I'll take a look at the Scosche earphones. The IDR in the name IDR655m refers to Increased Dynamic Range, which Scosche says "accurately reproduce brilliant highs, silky smooth mids and powerful bass for all musical genres." Since the IDR655m earphones are made to be used with a wide range of Apple devices, they come with a tapLINE II remote and a mic built into the cable. The tapLINE remote (see below) is wider than the Apple or Altec Lansing Muzx remote, and I found it easier to use than the other two remotes. It has good "click" feedback and works identically to the Apple remote for volume control, switching tracks, or enabling voice control.
The cables on the Scosche earphones are covered with a woven material rather than the slick plastic on both the Apple and Altec Lansing earphones. This may not sound like something that can make a difference, but I found that any time the material touched another surface like my shirt, I could hear a lot of noise in the earphones. While touching any of the cables on any earphones will create some noise, it was much more noticeable with the Scosche earphones. The mic is separated from the remote on the Schosche earphones, a separate "bump" a bit closer to your mouth than the remote (see photo above). Scosche apparently realized that the cable noise might cause an issue, since they also included a small clip that attaches to the cable and then to a piece of clothing to keep the cable from rubbing. The Altec Lansing earphones had no such clip.

When it came to sound reproduction, the Scosche IDR655m earphones (see below) were excellent. The in-the-ear 'phones provided outstanding passive noise isolation, and compared to the standard earbuds provided by Apple, I was able to actually reduce the volume of music when I was listening to it. I felt that the Scosche earphones provided the most natural sound reproduction, but this could vary depending on your tastes in music. Using the microphone to record some voice memos on both earphones, I found the Scosche sound quality to be much more realistic, although it did have a bit more hiss in the background.
The Muzx Ultra earphones from Altec Lansing had some design features that I really liked. For example, the cable going into the in-ear 'phones had a small stand-off built in for stress relief (see below). There's no direct pull on the cable where it attaches to the balanced armature speakers, which should make for a very durable earphone. There are eight silicone tips that can be used with the Muzx Ultra earphones to give you a perfect and comfortable fit, while the Schosche kit comes with 10 different tips. The Altec Lansing earphones were also much more comfortable for me over the long haul, although this could once again be personal preference.
The microphone on the Muzx Ultra earphones is built into the remote button. The remote is more like the Apple remote than the Scosche remote, a solid piece of plastic with two little indentations (see below) to delineate the area between the stop / play, louder, and softer buttons. I honestly don't know where Altec Lansing hid the mic, as there's no visible hole or screen in front of it as there is on the other two earphones. I felt that the Muzx Ultra earphones provided even better noise isolation than the Scosche earphones, so if you work in a noisy environment or fly frequently, they may be a more logical choice for you. The microphone created a somewhat muffled sound during voice memo recording, but with less hiss than the Scosche earphones.
Both earphone kits come with small carry cases (see below), the Altec Lansing case being made out of a ultrasuede-like "PVC leather" and the Scosche case out of real sheepskin leather.

I decided to split out the "winners" in a variety of categories to help me make my decision in the throwdown:

Sound reproduction
Winner: Scosche IDR655m

Noise isolation characteristics
Winner: Altec Lansing Muzx Ultra

Lack of cable noise
Winner: Altec Lansing Muzx Ultra

Quality of construction
Winner: Altex Lansing Muzx Ultra

Case
Winner: Scosche IDR655m

Ease of using remote
Winner: Scosche IDR655m

Microphone sound quality
Winner: Scosche IDR655m

Comfort
Winner: Altec Lansing Muzx Ultra

Although the winners were evenly split in terms of categories, I'm declaring the Scosche IDR655m earphones the winner. The sound quality, both in playback and recording, seemed much more natural than what I got with the Altec Lansing Muzx Ultra earphones. I preferred the IDR655m's remote control buttons to the plasticky feeling of the Muzx Ultra's control as well. Price-wise, the earphones tested here are almost identical, so if you value comfort and noise isolation, then the Altec Lansing earphones might be best for you.

We can't, of course, test all of the high-end earphones out there. That's where you come in, TUAW readers -- if you use another brand or model of high-end earphones and would like to let us know how and why you like or dislike them, leave your comments below.

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When it comes to listening to music, watching movies on the run, or even making phone calls, the earphones you use on your iDevice make a...