Every once in a while, I get out a box-stock pair of Apple earbuds (the kind that were thrown in for free with your iPod or iPhone) and spend some time listening to them just to remind myself how they sound. Without meaning to turn those poor, innocent little buds into Playback’s personal audio whipping boys, let me simply observe that stock earbuds don’t sound very good at all. In fact, if I were to review them (which I won’t), they would come in for sharp criticism for their thin and anemic bass, exaggerated and overly prominent mids, and for their almost unlistenable, “hot,” and sizzling upper mids and highs. But what if I told you that someone has created an easy-to-use adapter product that addresses many of the weaknesses of stock earbuds, while building on strengths not, at first, in evidence—in short, an adapter that turns stock earbuds from a bad thing (with a capital “B”) into a pretty darned good thing? That, in a nutshell, is what Yurtopia’s Yurbud™ * earbud enhancers are all about.
* For the record, Yurtopia prefers that its company and product names be spelled entirely in lower-case letters; for the sake of clarity, however, I’ve capitalized the names in this reviews.
But there’s more to the story than sound quality alone. Yurbuds, you see, not only aim to improve the sound of stock earbuds, but also to enhance their overall fit and comfort in a dramatic and—get this—semi-custom-fitted way. Yurbuds, as it turns out, are the brainchild of Seth Burgett, a triathlete and entrepreneur whose background is in the design of “minimally invasive surgical devices,” and who found that his stock earbuds kept falling out during training runs. Partly out of personal interest, and partly sensing that a viable product concept was in the offing, Burgett sought to create comfortable, easy-to-attach earbud adapters that, in a sense, would mimic some of the characteristics of (typically very costly) custom earmold-type headphones. What evolved was the Yurbud: a soft rubber adapter that slips over the stock earbud, that is offered in a broad ranges of sizes (there are 12 sizes, in all), and that looks and feels much like a custom-fitted/custom-molded product, but at a tiny fraction of the cost.
Yurtopia has developed a simple yet ingenious imaging system, called YurScan™ (patents pending) for fitting listeners with the correct sizes of Yurbuds earbud enhancers. When ordering Yurbuds, customers are asked to take a photo showing a quarter held alongside the listener’s ears (to provide an accurate size comparison). Alternatively, listeners can supply a photo showing their ears with a pair of stock earbuds in place (again, for size comparisons). The photo is then downloaded to the Yurtopia ordering site, where proprietary yurScan technology analyzes the size/shape of the customer’s ear relative to the reference quarter (or earbud) and then recommends an appropriately sized adapter. According to Yurtopia, I need a size 7 Yurbud adapter and my review samples fit me perfectly.
Those who would rather skip the whole custom fitting process can purchase Yurbuds off-the-shelf at Best Buy in sizes 5 and 7 (the most commonly required sizes), though the YurScan custom-fitting software seems to work so well that I can’t think of any good reason not to take advantage of it.
Once installed, Yurbud-equipped earbuds fit firmly yet very comfortably in the outer ear, while providing small, gently flared nozzles that directs sound into the wearer’s ear canals. The nozzles, though, do not actually extend very far into the ear canals at all, which will no doubt be a blessing to listeners who don’t care for the feel of traditional in-ear headphones. What athletes/listeners will appreciate, I think, is the fact that Yurbuds grip the ear firmly enough not to fall out during routine exercise yet are still easy to remove or re-insert when the need arises.
Consider these adapters if: you want to hear just how much better your stock earbuds can sound (hint: we’re talking about a significant—not a small or subtle—jump in sound quality). Also consider the Yurbuds if you’re an active person who wants earbuds that are comfortable to use yet won’t fall out, or if you’re a listener who likes the idea of a semi-custom fitted product that—unlike traditional in-ear headphones—does not protrude overly deeply into the ear canal. There’s a lot of value here for your $20.