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Review: Insten Portable Docking Speakers

Full disclosure – I didn’t buy a high-end iPod speaker dock. As a matter of fact, calling what I bought an iPod speaker dock is a stretch: it has a standard headphone jack connector that fits in a wide variety of devices, my iPhone included. It won’t charge your phone, even though it is battery-powered and has a 6V (either from USB or another source) connector as an optional power source. I’m not even sure if you can use both at the same time because I’m afraid to try. However, the speakers do have a nifty little clip that will hold your device in place and even end up looking kind of like an iHome without any fancy features.

Insten Speaker Dock

The word “swag” almost pops into my head when I see this.

Oh, I forgot to mention that you can buy a pair of these headphones here for the too-low-not-to-try price of $7.49. With free shipping. Considering that and the five-egg reviews, I decided that these would probably do everything I needed them to, so I pulled the trigger. A week or so later, they arrived after being mailed in a bag. I was a little surprised, since these are plastic and don’t even have speaker covers and thus are probably somewhat fragile.

In your hand, these speakers do feel a little bit cheap, but I wouldn’t say they feel $7.49 cheap. Both the volume control and power switch feel solid enough, but the audio cord is pretty short and feels flimsy. It won’t last. The battery cover doesn’t snap into place very convincingly and that magic phone holder feels like it would snap pretty easily. The glaring lack of speaker covers also adds to how cheap these look. Still, the blue power LED is very bright and I’ve still seen much more poorly made products sell for much more money.

Folded Speakers

Yes, they will fit in your pocket for convenient carrying, albeit a little awkwardly.

$7.49 becomes an even better deal for these speakers when you take the sound they are able to produce into account. I didn’t know what to think when I saw that these speakers have a response range of 150 Hz to 18 kHz. I’m more experienced as a headphone buyer, but for the sake of comparison, my Sennheiser HD 448s have a response range of 16 Hz to 24 kHz, meaning that they are able to produce a far better range of sounds, particularly in the bass neighborhood. You don’t really hear any noises above 16 kHz so that’s irrelevant here.

That being said, you won’t mistake these speakers for the auditory masterpieces that are the Shure SE 215s and the Sennheiser HD 448s anytime soon. These speakers don’t sound overwhelmingly tinny but they are definitely treble-heavy. The underlying bass components from dubstep songs are more or less absent. Zomboy’s “Bass Cannon” remix is just some weird noises. Still, for most other genres (including a lot of electronica), these speakers are surprisingly punchy and hold their own. These speakers make your music way louder than your iPhone’s built-in speaker. My iPhone said they managed to produce 93ish dB at about a foot away before they started to clip a lot. Not too shabby.

To summarize:

  • Pros: Value – the sound quality, construction, convenience and volume for the money. Free shipping is a big plus, too.
  • Cons: Still not very well made, lack of bass, lack of AC adapter, does not include rechargeable batteries, will not charge iPhone.

I give the Insten Portable Docking Speakers 4/5 stars.

Shure SE215 Headphones

A few months ago, I began to wonder if I’d outgrown my Sennheiser CX200 earbuds. They were great when I purchased them a few years ago for around $20, but after going to the HD448 headphones, the CX200s simply didn’t get it done for me at work. Considering I was listening to mostly free Internet radio, I wasn’t super concerned, but I began browsing for a new pair of earphones. I eventually settled on the Shure SE215s, which were $90 on Amazon but had great reviews. I eagerly awaited their arrival.

I went to Maryland last week and they were waiting for me when I returned. The first thing I noticed was how well they were made. One of the “features” that concerned me the most was that each earpiece is removable from the cable, so you can replace the cable if it goes bad and the headphones don’t. I was worried that the cable wouldn’t stay in well, but it’s in so tightly that I haven’t been able to take it out (not that I have pulled very hard). The cable is very thick and the connector feels solid. Combined with the carrying case, the SE215s seem like they will stand up to teenage travelling abuse.

Shure SE215

My new earphones in their case.

The next impressive feature the SE215s have to offer is the huge number of earpiece options. There are three different sizes and each comes in a foam option and rubber option. The medium-sized foam pieces that are on by default seem to fit just fine, but I haven’t been able to remove them (for two reasons – I haven’t really had a reason to and the foam is rather aggravating - more on this later) to try others. The instructions say to wear the earbuds like you would ear plugs; this leads to some discomfort after long listening sessions. I wore these headphones for around 7 hours at work yesterday but I had to take breaks on occasion.

I mentioned that foam earpieces are aggravating. They are very nice and Shure isn’t kidding when they say to wear the SE215s like ear plugs – you can’t hear very much with them in and music off, and with music on, you can’t hear anything. I’m listening to music with them as I write, and I can’t hear my keystrokes, finger snapping right next to my ear, pounding on my desk, or hitting my phone against its dock. It’s scary – I don’t recommend these for dark, rainy nights. If you have a noisy office, these will be awesome. They don’t leak much sound, either. However, the foam earpieces also form to fit your ear canal. This is awesome when you put them in right, but if you mess up putting them in, you have to wait a few minutes for them to re-inflate before you can get good sound and have them stay in. Trying to take them off is also a death sentence for listening to music with them for a while – you have to smoosh the foam. It’s annoying but as I get better at using these earphones, I’m sure it will become a non-issue. Shure says you can freeze the headphones for 5-10 minutes to make the piece easier to take off.

The sound is so good, however, that the people around you probably wish they did leak some. As a teenager, I enjoy good bass response, and these deliver. I’m no audiophile, but for $90 I think these are amazing. All the other reviews of these that I’ve read seem to agree. Treble is also very good, as are the mids. Everything sounds very crisp – even with my iPhone set on its bass booster equalizer setting, nothing becomes muddy. I also enjoy how much punch the SE215s have on drum kicks. I listen to a huge variety of music from rock to pop to trance and these headphones do a great job on each.

Although I think these headphones were worth every penny and I plan on keeping them for a long time, I do have a few complaints:

  • As I mentioned before, comfort isn’t great.
  • Noise blocking is scary good. This is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on where you are, but I worry that I won’t be able to hear my phone ring.
  • Having to justify spending $90 on headphones to my friends. Yes, they are cheaper and better than Beats (bass can be equalized up to close to what they can produce which is great for my teenager side and the presence of the other two levels is good for my Sennheiser side) but they say SHURE in big letters on the side. How many non-audiophiles have heard of Shure? I hadn’t until I stumbled upon these in an Amazon search.
  • They are hardly stylish. They have a clear case that allows you to see the headphone internals which is kind of neat but they are very large and you have to wear them with the cord wrapped around the back of your ear. It doesn’t look as ridiculous as you might think but my friends are going to make fun of me:
    Shure SE215 In-ear Fit
  • Although the cord is very sturdy, it is a little bit stiff at the moment. I hope this works itself out but for now, I can’t get a very good ear wrap and the cord touches my neck. I think part of the problem with the ear wrap is that the ends of the cords are shrinkwrapped. This adds to quality but I suppose it also adds to break-in time.

Overall, I am extremely pleased. These headphones offer excellent audio quality at a reasonable price. Buy these, put on some high-bitrate music, and enjoy. 9/10.