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#1 3/06/11 9:55 AM

Daniel Levy's Avatar
Daniel Levy United States
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Website

http://reviewstash.com/files/ace361bm/intro.jpg
In our previous review, we discovered that Arctic Sound, once known as "Arctic Cooling", can produce high-quality, inexpensive products outside of its traditional domain of cooling equipment through our thorough analysis of their Bluetooth headset. Today, however, we place Arctic's E361 "multi-function" and "multi-compatible" earphones under the microscope. Arctic promises that this unit has "superb sound quality" in every dimension. With an integrated microphone, in-line controls, and a huge list of impressive features and specifications the Arctic E361 looks poised to cover a wide array of usage; from portable audio players, cellular phones, and mobile computers. Side stepping Arctic's previous success, let's independently see if the E361 proves to be another worthy addition to Arctic's "refreshed" product line.

Specifications:

Frequency Response: 18Hz - 26kHz
Impedance: 32
Sensitivity: 105dB
Output Power: 15mW
Cable Length: 1.3m with 3.5mm plug
Weight: 5g
Limited Warranty: 2 years

Features:

Large driver coil leads to ultimate bass performance
The precisely milled aluminum chassis transmits a perfect balance of high and low frequencies
3 sets of silicone caps (S, M, L) minimize ambient noise and enrich bass response
ultra-sort material fits gently in your ears providing hours of wearing comfort
Integrated microphone for phone calls
Gold-plated stereo plug for uncompromising signal transmission
Arctic Cooling's Product Page
Price: $33.10 @ Arctic Cooling

The Packaging:

http://reviewstash.com/files/ace361bm/boxfronts.jpg http://reviewstash.com/files/ace361bm/boxbacks.jpg
(Click images to increase size)


Keeping with Arctic's recent packaging theme, the E361's box, amidst its metallic exterior, contains a veritable cornucopia of technical specifications and product information. In fact, the technical specifications are more thorough on the box than on even Arctic's official website. I counted a total of seven "Arctic" emblems, including the embossed logos flanking the sides - meaning that Arctic, while I always appreciate their providing ample information, might want to tone down the packaging slightly. I do, however, enjoy the large, sturdy window that displays not only the earphones themselves, but their carrying case and the touch sensitive controller. They took the scatter-shot approach with their visual marketing, but with multiple languages covered and plenty of helpful tips, such as the note about the mobile phone adapter, one can't really complain too much. But, as previously mentioned, Arctic could save ink and eye-strain by incorporating more empty space.

Inside the Packaging:

http://reviewstash.com/files/ace361bm/insideboxs.jpg http://reviewstash.com/files/ace361bm/insideitemss.jpg
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One thing is definitely for certain - Arctic knows how to put together an OEM accessory bundle. With most manufacturers, you'll be lucky if you get a package of extra silicone caps. With Arctic, however, you get a cord keeper / carrying case, 3.5mm TRRS to dual TRS (for using the microphone and earphones on a computer), the expected silicone caps, shirt clip, and a nifty sticker. I'm going to ignore the fact that all of the connectors are "gold" plated, but I will, however, say that TRRS to TRS connectors are often marked up to exorbitant prices, making their inclusion very agreeable. And, without said doodad, you'd have a heck of a time using the microphone on anything other than a smart phone.

Also included is (of course) one of Arctic's thorough manuals. If you're interested in getting a sneak peak of it, you can see part of it here. The manual makes clear that you should "not use the earphones at excessively loud volume". Which, is thankfully highlighted in bold font - for "emphasis". They've included a quick usage guide inside of the manual, from fitting silicone caps (you'd be surprised by how many people can't figure out why their earphones fall out) to explaining how TRRS works (for both individual devices and computers). This is one place where including excessive information is great and I truly believe that Arctic has successfully answered any usage related questions in this miniature manuscript.

The Arctic Sound E361 Itself:

http://reviewstash.com/files/ace361bm/unitcases.jpg http://reviewstash.com/files/ace361bm/unitsides.jpg
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After removing all of Arctic's accessories, and carefully pulling out each segment of earphone wire from the plastic mold, you will find a surprisingly impressive looking audio device. The bow of each of the earphones consists of quality, milled aluminum. That, while scratch prone, is miles ahead of most other earphone materials and build quality. While it doesn't show in the above pictures, the plastic at the stern of the earphone isn't sloppy, cheap, matte plastic, but smooth, rubberized plastic. Also favorable, is Arctic's decision to reinforce the entry point for the earphone cables. Usually, in this price bracket, the cloth (a scratchy pet-peeve of mine) or rubberized audio cable goes directly into a thin rubber joint, which can easily cause shorts or break overtime. Arctic's joint is made out of vastly superior hard plastic, which will hopefully ensure longevity. Said joint also matches the color of the earphone silicone cups, a careful choice by arctic. And, if you need to protect your E361 whilst simultaneously managing cable tangles, there's the aforementioned case. I am, however, quite queasy at the positioning of the milled aluminum in the case - it's a veritable scratch-a-palooza!

These earphones are definitely a bit longer and weightier than what most are used to, but, at first glance, this should mean that they are well designed, which should make for a pleasant testing experience. I'm also happy to see that Arctic "ported" these earphones. No, they didn't get it to run console games! Rather, based on the size and position of the ports (behind the driver coil), this addition (or "subtraction" from the volume) should result in great bass response. So far, the only real negative that I can see with the device is that the cables are definitely on the thin size. It would have been nice if Arctic could have opted for a beefier gauge. Fortunately, while thin, they aren't flimsy like with most earphone cables. I'm also glad that they decided to opt for rubber cabling over today's chic, asbestos toaster cord, braided cables. Said cables pick up an incredible amount of ambient noise and tangle with a glance. Yet, if Arctic had made these cables a little thicker, they would almost never tangle. Still, compared to my "premium" Zune headphones, these do a killer job of not becoming a nuisance.

http://reviewstash.com/files/ace361bm/unitvols.jpg http://reviewstash.com/files/ace361bm/unitplugs.jpg
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The TRRS connector contains two standard rings for stereo audio and a final ring for the on-board microphone. In the left image, the in-line microphone / playback control unit is shown. The slick, reflective coating looks somewhat cheap, but it does a solid job of giving "sliding" tactile feedback. In terms of in-line playback functionality, a user can accept or end a call, play or pause music, and double-tap to go to the next song. It would have been nice, however, to be able to "slide" across the surface to increase or decrease volume, but that would have added to the cost. Maybe Arctic could create a "premium" version that boasts more cellular capabilities?

Testing:

As with previous audio related reviews, I must make clear the advisory that audio evaluation is an absurdly subjective task. I can, however, assure you that I have a lot of experience with audio equipment and will do my best to provide a clear "image" of the experience that the E361 earphones provide. Also, for this earphone, I would like to break the testing down into two categories - usability / ergonomics and sound fidelity. Normally I would include the ergonomics in the previous category, but testing seems better suited.

I'm suitably impressed with how well fitted Arctic's silicone caps are. Usually, I find that medium is too loose and large is downright painful. With Arctic's caps, large fits as I would expect - snugly. It would be nice, however, if they smoothed out their mold, as the hard seam on the silicone caps (shown in the picture) can sometimes scratch with the correct sized cap. The earphones themselves sit very well in the ear and like with expensive, professional earphones protrude and conform to the shape of the inner-ear. A lot of earphones in this price range don't stand up well to physical activity, but I've taken them and my SanDisk Sansa Clip to all of my recent weight lifting excursions and they have never fallen out of my ears, nor have they become obviously uncomfortable. This is especially great, because most of the other "budget" earphones that I have used are ill suited to much more than sedentary listening. Also, if you often use these earphones during physical activity, the in-line volume controller can sometimes sit strangely underneath a shirt. To prevent this, slightly pull the in-line controller out of the article of clothing, so that there is a bit of extra cable length.

Moving past ergonomics and into fidelity, the reader may either be pleasantly surprised or upset with my findings. I listen to a fairly wide variety of music - French electronic music, classic hip-hop (don't mess with the Wu), and even death metal frequent my playlist. And, through testing, I've found that these earphones have specific characteristics that more favorably match certain scenarios. I'll first relay the good news, before I get into the lacking components of the earphones. I don't know if it's because they're ported, but the higher bass frequency is impressively precise and well-rounded. Because of this, these earphones sound great with hip-hop or electronic music. Unfortunately, the lower bass levels aren't too powerful, making for boring gaming and video watching. I hope, however, that the intended role of these earphones excludes said scenarios.

The mid-range is well separated and clear, but isn't very full. I'm surprised that the instrumentation isn't muddied at all and that all of the details are distinguishable. This means that while it's not overly impressively, it definitely sounds crisp. Also, the overwhelming bass (in terms of quantity, not power) doesn't overwhelm the mids, making these earphones more usable than most. You really only get into problems with the mid-range when you listen to fast, technical rock or metal, where having a "full" mid-range is particularly helpful.

My biggest complaint, however, is with the treble. It isn't so much that it is tinny, a common complaint with a lot of earphones, but that it simply isn't present. I can't complain, however, because I'd rather have overall clear and crisp sound, versus tinny highs and muddied lows. If you appreciate your high-end replication, you might want to reconsider, but for most this isn't an issue. In fact, I believe that most people, due to the lack of muddying, clear instrumentation, and clean lows, will think that these earphones sound much better than what they have been using.

I would also like to briefly mention the microphone. Unlike with the previous Arctic Sound device we reviewed, the in-line microphone on the E361 has no issues with placement and definitely records at the correct volume level, making using the E361 for calls very pleasant. Conversations don't "boom" or thump and dialogue is clear. The music controls are somewhat rudimentary, but call accept / decline works as expected, making these a great, lightweight solution for any smart phone user. Isolation is also surprisingly good, and background noises are easily blocked out.

Verdict:

There is one thing for certain about these earphones that I respect. Arctic didn't set out to make "audiophile grade" earphones, instead they put together a quality, well functioning, and precise product that does exactly what it is supposed to do. If you're a smart phone user looking for multi-functional earphones that are well-built and provide precise sound, while still allowing you access to a crystal clear microphone, the E361 is definitely a solid option to consider. The bass is crisp and not overpowering and the mid-range is well separated, so the sound quality certainly is an improvement over what most consumers may already have.

Positives:
Great accessory package
Incredible build quality
Clear and distinct instrumentation
Sound is neither muddy nor tinny
Very comfortable

Neutral Ground:
Some may prefer "lower" lows

Negatives:
The treble needs reinforcement
I would like to see better / more in-line controls

Thanks go to Eason Chung at Arctic for the opportunity to take a look at the E361!

 
 
 

3/06/11 9:55 AM

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